Produce farms provided COVID-19 disinfecting guidelines

New FDA food safety guidelines require local farmers to review and adapt their current food safety practices.

"There has never been a more important time to review food contact surfaces and high touch surface cleaning, sanitization, and disinfection procedures," says Zach Grant, University of Illinois Extension educator. "Before a sanitizer can be effective on a surface, the area must be cleared of direct and organic debris which would render the sanitizer less effective."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the difference between sanitization and disinfection is primarily in the concentration of the anti-microbial applied and when the event takes place.

  • Cleaning physically removes germs, dirt and other impurities from surfaces, often with water and detergent.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces to what public health officials determine as safe.
  • Disinfecting kills germs by using chemicals on surfaces and objects. Disinfecting may not clean dirty surfaces, but lowers the risk spreading infection by killing surface germs.

Cleaning and sanitizing is a four-step process: remove obvious debris; clean with detergent; rinse; apply a sanitizer application and air dry. "All farms offering produce should repeat this procedure as a part of their normal operation," Grant says.

"The decision to sanitize or disinfect should be based on the probability of the presence of a known hazard," Grant says. "For instance, during normal washing and packing of produce where typical levels of outside food borne pathogens are possibly present, then routine cleaning and sanitizing guidelines in your produce safety plan should be followed. However, if you have a known or highly probable hazard present, then cleaning and disinfecting is appropriate."

Farmers should consider disinfecting frequently used items, such as door handles, equipment, bins, point of sale equipment, chairs, tables, and other heavily touched surfaces. Currently, there are no labeled sanitizers or anti-microbial products labeled for SARS-CoV-2; though the EPA has assembled a list which highlights disinfectants currently approved for use against SARS-CoV-2. 

Only products on “List N” can legally be used against SARS-CoV-2. Some products may be labeled for other coronavirus or similar hard to kill viruses. Extension has a Disinfectant Tip Sheet available.

"The high concentrations of a sanitizer product used for disinfecting are not meant to remain in contact with food contact surfaces," Grant says. "After cleaning the surface, apply the disinfectant. Follow labeled instructions on the amount of time the wet solution should remain on the object. After the indicated contact time, it is recommended that the food contact surface be rinsed with water, then re-applied with a normal sanitizer rate solution and allowed to air dry."

SOURCEZack Grant, University of Illinois Extension, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator. Zack holds a B.S. in Agribusiness/Horticulture from Illinois State University and an M.S in Horticulture from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. From 2008-2015, he managed the Sustainable Student Farm at Illinois. Its mission is to grow year-round, high-quality produce for the dining halls and the university community. In addition, the SSF conducts research in intensive small scale farming techniques, season extension techniques, and outreach to the larger growing community. In 2015, he became the Local Food Systems and Small Farms educator for Cook County, focusing on urban food production systems programming for a diverse group of stakeholders.

WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, Communication and Marketing Manager, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUTIllinois Extension is the outreach effort of University of Illinois, extending unbiased, research-based information to help residents identify and solve local problems that build better futures for individuals, families, businesses, farms, and communities. Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.