Worker Health, Hygiene, and Training Overview
This section outlines how to make sure workers know about food safety risks, understand how they can reduce risks while they are working, and have the resources required to properly do their jobs. Because workers can carry pathogens and are present in fruit and vegetable growing and packing environments, their health and hygiene practices and other behaviors directly affect the safety of produce. All personnel who handle produce or food contact surfaces, or supervise those who handle produce, must receive training upon hiring and at least annually thereafter (1). An effective worker health, hygiene, and training program can only happen with grower commitment and oversight.
Implement training programs to effectively reduce risks
- Use a language workers understand (1).
- Describe when and how to properly wash hands while working on the farm (2).
- Discuss the importance of being clean and wearing clean clothes to work.
- Explain why workers should not be working when ill.
- Teach workers how to handle injuries and illnesses on the farm.
- Describe which farm food safety practices and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) workers are responsible for completing and why these practices are important.
Provide facilities and equipment so workers can follow your food safety plan
- Provide clean, private, and well-stocked toilets, as well as, hand washing facilities.
- Provide all equipment necessary for implementing food safety practices such as access to cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Develop detailed SOPs to ensure proper implementation of practices.
- Make sure all workers know where all equipment and supplies are located and when they are to be used.
Encourage communication so workers will help you identify and reduce risks
- Set a good example.
- Develop a system for communication that is shared during trainings.
- Acknowledge proper behaviors and discourage improper behaviors.
Implement training programs to effectively reduce risks
Workers are the foundation of all food safety programs because they are responsible for implementing food safety practices. Training should be in the language workers understand to create the best opportunity for learning. The importance of providing training in a manner that is easily understood by workers is signified by the presence of this requirement in the FSMA Produce Safety Rule (1). Farm-specific food safety practices and SOPs should be included in worker education programs to encourage workers to actively participate in the farm food safety program. Information should be reinforced continuously through the use of posters, refresher trainings, and by management setting a good example. Good training will help workers recognize a risk when they see it and encourage them to do something about it. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR) requires that at least one supervisor or responsible party from the farm complete a food safety training at least equivalent to the FDA recognized training (3). The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training satisfies this requirement. This food safety training will help with the development of an effective training program for workers.
The importance of the cleanliness of every worker’s hands throughout all phases of production cannot be over-emphasized, because they may be directly touching the produce. All workers, even family members, must receive instruction in proper hygiene practices as well as other food safety practices that are used on the farm. Hand washing should occur after using the restroom, before starting or returning to work, and before and after eating or smoking to reduce the risk of contamination (2). Hands must be washed before handling produce. People who are ill or who have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea can contaminate fruits and vegetables and should not handle produce (4). Open or infected wounds, blisters, or bleeding cuts also can transmit harmful pathogens to produce. Workers should be taught how to wash and bandage cuts as well as how to check the area around them to be sure no blood has contaminated fresh produce or food contact surfaces. All contaminated produce should be discarded and contaminated food contact surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized. With proper bandaging, (e.g. a bandage with a secondary covering such as a glove), workers may return to work or be assigned to tasks that do not include handling fresh produce. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule requires that training include the principles of food hygiene and food safety, the importance of health and personal hygiene for all employees, and other FSMA Produce Safety Rule standards that apply to the employee’s job (3).
Provide facilities and equipment so workers can properly follow the food safety plan
Providing clean, accessible, and well-stocked restroom facilities including toilets and hand washing stations is critical to workers’ hygiene practices (5, 6). To encourage the use of the facilities, cleaning and maintenance should be regularly scheduled and recorded in a log. Workers need to be provided with the proper tools to do their job well. If the farm’s food safety plan includes SOPs make sure workers have access to all equipment, tools, supplies, and PPE listed in the SOPs.
Encourage communication so workers will help identify and reduce risks on the farm
Good communication encourages workers to report risks including injuries and illnesses. Training should stress the importance of communication and there should be a system developed so workers know how to communicate their concerns with their supervisor. When workers find food safety risks, they should report the risks and learn how to reduce the risks they have identified. Proper behaviors should be encouraged and improper behaviors discouraged. Farm owners and managers should focus on:
- Developing a farm food safety plan that includes a worker health, hygiene and training policy
- Educating workers about food safety risks and how to identify, communicate, and reduce those risks
- Providing workers with all the resources they need to do their jobs properly
- Enforcing the proper use of toilets and hand washing facilities
- Paying attention to the health of workers
- Encouraging workers to report injuries and illnesses
- Keeping records of all training sessions, illness and injury reporting, and other food safety practices such as toilet and hand washing facility monitoring and cleaning
Templates, Sample Policies, and Record Keeping
Recordkeeping templates and sample SOPs are provided as part of the Worker Health, Hygiene, and Training Decision Tree. These templates, SOPs and recordkeeping logs should be tailored to meet the needs of the farm. They may be modified by adding practices that are in place or by removing practices that are not necessary. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule requires that someone is designated as responsible to ensure compliance with the Rule (7). Records must also be established and kept to document required training of personnel, including the date of training, topics covered, and the persons(s) trained (8).