“If you see poo on it, don’t pick it.”
That advice from citrus Extension agent Chris Oswalt summarized a portion of training aimed at helping fresh citrus growers comply with the federal Produce Safety Rule. The section addressed wildlife and domestic animals in groves. The Produce Safety Rule is a key part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Oswalt was one of several University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences staffers providing training on the rule Feb. 11 at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
A handbook Oswalt used in his presentation stated that domestic and wild animals are a food-safety concern because “they can carry human pathogens in their feces” and spread contamination.
The handbook acknowledged that wildlife on a farm “is natural and their presence is often unavoidable.” Oswalt said the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes that wildlife is “very difficult to control” and that complete exclusion is difficult. However, he added that the FDA is adamant that animal feces not contaminate fresh fruit.
Oswalt focused primarily on wildlife in groves. He addressed topics such as monitoring for wildlife feces in groves and deterring wildlife with fencing, noise deterrents and other means.
Regarding domestic animals, the handbook suggested excluding pets from produce fields.
“Not harvesting fresh produce with fecal material seems pretty straight forward, but this requires all those who harvest to know that this is a requirement and to know how to avoid contamination,” the handbook stated. It added that workers must be trained to recognize and not harvest contaminated produce.
Oswalt and the handbook also addressed recordkeeping requirements regarding animals. Records must be kept about worker training, monitoring groves for animal activity and actions taken to reduce risks related to animal intrusion.
“The bottom line is if it’s contaminated, do not harvest it,” Oswalt concluded.
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