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COVID-19 and Wholesale Grower Questions

The CDC, FDA and USDA have no reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest coronavirus can be transmitted by food or food packaging.

What should an operation do to protect their workers and themselves? Growers should inform employees concerning the importance of following recommended guidelines for their own health, the protection of co-workers and to keep the farm running. Anyone getting sick with COVID–19 will have a significant impact on the continued operation of the farm!

Transportation

  1. Do not pack too many workers in a vehicle. Ideally there should just be two individuals in a pickup. If using buses have one individual per seat.
  2. If bringing workers in from another country or another part of the United States, consider quarantining them for up to 14 days. It is especially important if one in the group is showing symptoms.

Labor Housing

  1. Social distancing inside labor housing with a common bunk room may be a challenge. Consider installing temporary/permanent screens/walls between bunks, separating bunks as far as space allows, or divide bunks into individual beds if practical/possible.
  2. Plan for what would happen if someone contracted Covid-19. There should be a separate area set aside for that individual, whether it is a separate room or in another house. The original camp should be cleaned and sanitized following CDC guidelines before any workers return.
  3. The camp should be cleaned frequently, and high touch areas should be sanitized often. Support this effort by providing proper cleaning and sanitizing supplies for the camp.

Handwashing

  1. Employees must wash their hands often for 20 seconds. This means as soon as people report to work, when they take breaks, when they use bathroom facilities, etc. This is not a time to make fun of handwashing – promote it! If hand sanitizers are available workers should wash hands then apply hand sanitizers. The sanitizer should be at least 62% alcohol.
  2. Post handwashing signage in the appropriate language at each handwashing station.
  3. Designate the responsibility of monitoring handwashing facility supplies (water, soap, paper towels) to an individual. Provide ample supplies for restocking.

Labor Etiquette

  1. If you have more than one crew keep them separated. Have them work separately, take breaks separately and eat separately. Do not mix a crew once they are working together. If in a packinghouse clean and sanitize all equipment between each crew. (PDF)
  2. Clean and sanitize break and eating areas before being occupied and before each time they are used.
  3. Space everyone 6 feet apart or as far as possible. This is difficult if a crew is riding a transplanter but do the best you can.
  4. If workers wear gloves, they should be single use and replaced frequently. Non-disposable gloves should be laundered each day. Worker should wash their hands prior to putting gloves on and wash them off prior to removal.
  5. What about masks? Masks are recommended. Cloth masks are acceptable, but they should be laundered daily. If masks are purchased, they should be replaced at least daily and more frequently if dirty. Proper use and care are important.
  6. Should worker’s temperatures be taken at the beginning of the day? This depends if you have consulted a physician. A grower needs to obtain the correct thermometer, know how to use it, and know what temperature is too high. If temperatures are taken it should be when individuals report to work.

Lead by Example

Farm owners and supervisors must do the same thing that you expect your workers to do!

Authors

  • Wesley Kline, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cumberland County
  • Jennifer Matthews, Senior Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cumberland County
  • Meredith Melendez, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County
  • Rick VanVranken, Agricultural Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County