It should go without saying that if you sell food to the public, whether the item is generally eaten raw or not, sanitation should be a high priority on your farm. Simply put, getting anyone sick would be devastating, and you should avoid it at all costs.
If you’ve not thought much about your sanitation practices beyond simply washing your veggies, there are other advantages to being a rigorous and dedicated practitioner of cleanliness on your farm. These advantages are significant enough that you’ll want to improve your farm’s sanitation not only to avoid causing illness but also to gain revenue.
So here are some simple ways you can improve your farm sanitation, the advantages to doing so, and how to make the most of the time you dedicate to it.
Avoid a “Total Recall”
A good sanitation regimen—like those outlined by Good Agricultural Practices, also called GAP, or the Food Safety Modernization Act—involve not just the proper harvesting, washing and cleaning of each item you offers, but the detailed record keeping of its growth, harvest, cleaning, packaging and storage.
A sanitation journal or spreadsheet with information about when an item was harvested as well as who harvested it, packed it and stored it—though seemingly more work—will greatly increase a farm’s ability to track down issues that arise and keep them from getting out of hand. If someone were to get sick from a bag of lettuce, for example—which is possible on any size farm—having a good sanitation program with consistent documentation can help you easily track down the issue and recall or throw out any products that might have been a part of that same lot. Why is this an advantage? Tracking down the issue avoids having to recall or dispose of everything harvested that day by simply having notes about its production.
Increase Quality & Prolong Shelf Life
When you have a dedicated sanitation program, the quality of your product increases. In the case of produce, one of the most sanitary things you can do is simply get it cold—fast—and keep it that way. Another is to get it entirely dry before storing it so the product does not sit in water until it’s sold.
Accomplishing these tasks simultaneously is the best way to promote a product’s shelf life, especially in the case of leafy greens.
Gain Wholesale Accounts
Increasingly, wholesale accounts—especially larger ones—require you to be GAP certified before they buy your produce. Having a good sanitation program designed around the regulations of GAP helps you to more easily certify. Beyond that, some places will simply be happy to hear you have a good sanitation program and that you take cleanliness and food safety seriously. This can get you into accounts that a farm without a good program couldn’t access.
When you design a good sanitation program, you also design a cleaning routine. Without such a routine, it is easy to forget to clean things, or simply never clean the same way twice, which can be inefficient and ineffective. With a good sanitation program, you can standardize your packing, cleaning, and storing process so that no step gets forgotten. In lean agriculture, farmers can hang pictures of their pack sheds so that workers or helpers can know what it’s supposed to look like, avoiding time spent tracking down misplaced items, or having to clean during a harvest.