ONTARIO……As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches in North America, a renewed emphasis is once again being put on shoring up biosecurity on farms and in processing facilities.
There is never a good time for a pandemic — or its second wave — but the timing of this one will have a significant impact on farms and agricultural processors. Fruit and vegetable growers are bringing in their harvest, and cattle, swine and poultry farms are preparing for a season that traditionally includes big dinners — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
The importance of proper biosecurity measures on the farm and in the processing plants is paramount to ensure food safety and security in the United States and Canada.
“We live in an increasingly urban world that is far removed from the farm, both psychologically and geographically,” says Dr. Lucas Pantaleon, a technical veterinary advisor with Ogena Solutions, a company that specializes in biosecurity for farms, animal shelters and veterinary offices. “But everybody who eats relies on the farm and the food chain. It is vital that this sector is kept clean and safe — and operating — during a pandemic. The consequences otherwise are drastic. Unless you lived through the Great Depression or Second World War, you haven’t had to face a real food shortage in North America. That is a possibility if farms and processors are forced to shutter because of COVID.”
The arrival of COVID-19 in North America earlier in the year has had a significant impact on the farm. Travel restrictions and quarantine regulations have made it difficult to bring in migrant workers. Processing plants have been forced to close for extended periods for deep cleaning. Restaurant closures significantly reduced the market where farmers sell their food. New procedures and guidelines were adopted for cleaning and disinfecting around the farm.
Those cleaning protocols are extremely important now. Fortunately, farmers have plenty of experience practicing good biosecurity to ensure their livestock and crops are healthy.
Dr. Pantaleon offers the following insight into keeping North America’s farms safe during this pandemic.
Practice Good Personal Hygiene — This has been a staple since COVID’s arrival. Hands should be washed regularly with soap and warm water regularly, and avoid touching their faces. Or use a hand sanitizer that is at minimum 70 per cent alcohol, and it should be in contact with your skin for no less than 30 seconds.
Wear PPE — Another that has become a staple in our daily lives, and grows in importance as more studies of COVID indicate it is more likely to be passed from person-to-person through the air than from touching surfaces. Workers should be wearing gloves, masks and/or a face shield to protect themselves and others. This also applies to visitors to the farm, whether it is suppliers dropping off needed elements or shippers picking up animals or produce.
Disinfect Surfaces — While the greater risk now appears to be airborne particles, it doesn’t change the fact that the virus can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days. Follow the label directions closely of any disinfectant to ensure you respect the required contact time for the disinfectant to be effective. It should also only be applied to a clean surface. In other words, clean the surface first, then disinfect it.
Practice Physical Distancing — When someone sneezes or coughs, it is rare for the droplets and particles expelled to travel more than two metres (six feet). This is why physical distancing is so important. Farms should continue measures implemented in the spring — staggering shifts to ensure not everybody is at the farm at the same time, putting workers in an environment where they can do their job while maintaining a safe distance from their co-workers and encouraging employees to stay home if they are sick. Whether it is COVID-19 or not, an employee should not come to work if they are sick.
Use Products that are Safe — Some disinfectants commonly used — like hydrogen peroxide and chlorine — can be harsh on animals, users, farm equipment, the environment and human skin. But Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide is a blend of common ingredients with low levels of hydrogen peroxide that is a potent germicide and cleaner, while less damaging to equipment and safe for livestock. It doesn’t require personal protective equipment when it is being used, and is harmless to the environment.