Sanitation, Social Distancing Increase in Citrus Industry

Ernie NeffCitrus

IMG Citrus is practicing social distancing in its facilities.

Social distancing and enhanced sanitation practices have been adopted in many Florida groves and facilities in an effort to curtail spread of the coronavirus.

“Growers are making the necessary adjustments by increasing sanitation and keeping workers separated,” said Steve Smith, executive vice president of Gulf Citrus Growers Association. “The larger growers with multiple locations are keeping crews separated into small groups.”

Peace River Valley Citrus Growers Association Executive Director Kait Shaw said growers are “increasing their sanitation regulations for the workers. It is important to do this because these laborers are in close contact with each other 24/7.”

Lee Jones of Cross Covered Caretaking has heard that some harvesting companies “will be taking temperatures of the employees before they get on the bus and taking extra sanitary measures on the buses.”

“We have implemented many protocols within our packinghouse and groves to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, increase social distancing (less people per packing line) and increase sanitation measures,” stated Chloe Gentry of IMG Citrus. “These in turn help our employees feel safe coming to work.” The measures include increased sanitation of food and human contact surfaces, and readily available hand sanitizer at all employee stations. “A small percentage of workers have elected to self-quarantine due to their own pre-existing health concerns,” Gentry added.

Social distancing has been adopted in some citrus industry offices. Mike Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the entire Mutual staff has been working from home and is communicating by phone, text and email. David Wheeler of Wheeler Farms reported having a skeleton crew in the office “because we have to get payrolls and payables out,” but added that some office staffers are working from home.

Most growers haven’t missed attending the numerous industry meetings that have been cancelled or that they are participating in via telephone or other means, said Ray Royce, executive director of Highlands County Citrus Growers Association. “I think growers are mainly thinking, ‘I want to get my work done,’” he said.

Outside the grove but of interest to growers was news that orange juice futures had risen 20 percent in March as consumers sought healthy products in response to the pandemic. “Processing plants are running 24/7 to meet demand,” Sparks said.   

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large