NOFA-NY Winter Greens Workshop – Postharvest, Wash and Pack, Produce Safety

Chris partnered with Robert Hadad (Cornell), Judd Reid (Cornell), Paul and Sandy Arnold (Pleasant Valley Farm, Argyle, NY) to deliver a workshop hosted by NOFA-NY at the Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY on January 18, 2018.

Slides: Winter GreensWash/Pack Shed Efficiency & Food Safety Considerations. (PDF)

Handouts:

 

Upcoming Produce Safety Training (November 6-7, 2017)

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture and UVM Extension are co-sponsoring a VT-Style Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training on Tue-Wed, November 7 & 8, 2017 (8:30am – 5:00pm) at the VYCC Monitor Barn in Richmond, VT. This is the official required training for FSMA covered farms (Click here to determine whether your farm may be covered or exempt).


The $30 heavily subsidized training fee includes the massive training manual, multiple meals, ample coffee, and the Association of Food and Drug Official (AFDO) certificate (a $130 value—not including space rental or instructor fees!). The AFDO training certificate satisfies FSMA Produce Safety Rule training requirement.

EVERYONE is invited: Regardless of scale, annual sales, or market outlets, all produce growers can benefit from learning about integrating practical produce safety practices on a working produce operation. Technical assistance providers, educators, and regulators are also invited and will benefit from this training. Whether you are a covered farm fully subject to Produce Safety Rule (PSR) regulations, or an exempt farm required to keep certain records related to your exemption, all aspects rule compliance will also be covered during this training.

The Training Schedule at a glance:
Day One (November 7, 8:30am–5:00pm) will provide an introduction to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, employee health, hygiene and training requirements, and information about management of soil amendments as well as domesticated animals and wildlife. Includes on-farm exploration to apply concepts in the field.
Day Two (November 8, 8:30am–5:00pm) will cover agricultural water, postharvest handling and sanitation, and writing produce safety plans. Includes on-farm exploration to apply post-harvest concepts.

View more details and registration visit:  PSA Training Registration via Regonline

Spring Cleaning – Farm Cooler Checklist

Whether your winter storage rooms are getting bare or you are making the transition from sweet corn to potatoes, what better time to give your cooler a once over than right now? Download the Farm Cooler Checklist to help guide your walk-through.

Highlights include:

  • Cleaning, sanitizing and inspection of surfaces
  • Checking the envelope
  • Inspecting refrigeration equipment inside and out
  • Checking over a CoolBotTM
  • Checking thermostats
  • Confirming drainage
  • Reviewing and possibly upgrading lighting
  • Considering energy efficiency upgrades

Rats (and other rodents)

Download the PDF version of this page here!

When considering storage rooms, wash and pack sheds with growers there is one topic that is sure to strike a nerve: RODENTS.

This document is intended to provide summary information about measures you can take to reduce crop losses from these pests.  It is the result of a review of current literature on the topic and feedback from the Listserv of the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Grower’s Association (VVBGA). This document includes both active measures (traps, rodenticides, FSMA compliant cats and ball pythons, etc.) and passive measures (sealing, doors, packing, hardware cloth, novel construction, accepting the loss, selling everything early). But why are these creatures so challenging?  Here’s some background1:

House Mice Can

  • Enter openings larger than 1/4 inch
  • Jump as high as 18 inches
  • Travel considerable distances crawling upside-down along wire
  • Survive and reproduce at a temperature of 24°F if adequate food and nesting material are available.

Rats Can

  • Crawl through or under any opening higher or wider than 1/2 inch
  • Climb the outside or inside of vertical pipes and conduits up to 3 inches in diameter
  • Jump from a flat surface up to 36 inches vertically and as far as 48 inches horizontally
  • Drop 50 feet without being seriously injured
  • Burrow straight down into the ground for at least 36”
  • Swim as far as 1/2mi in open water, dive through water traps in plumbing, and travel in sewer lines against a substantial water current.

As one grower put it, “To deal with rats, you’ve got to think link a rat!”

Bottom Line

Cleanliness and Sanitation – Keep food sources well contained and sealed up, reduce “harborage” (places they can hide and live including weeds around the edge of a building), minimize available standing water. In short, make it unappealing and uncomfortable for them.

Rodent Deterrent Construction – Keep them out of the building. [References 1-3 provide very detailed guidance and novel, passive and relatively inexpensive construction ideas] Some examples from the references include keeping all wood products like cardboard, roots, or lumber off the ground and away from the building. Installing proper drainage with sand, stone and proper slope away from your building helps reduce moisture which can carry other pests like beetles and termites. Think about your exterior landscaping and its ability to trap moisture against the building. Keeping grass and weeds trimmed won’t leave a place for rodents to hide and travel. Think about all possible points of entry, sills, doors, windows, roofs. Mice can sneak into small holes and cracks so do your best to seal up all possible points of entry.

Population Reduction — Bait, trap, kill.

Using snap traps, sticky pads, poisonous bait are all the most effective ways of dealing with a rodent problem [References 5-7].

Responses from the VVBGA LISTSERV 

The following are responses from Vermont growers. These are some of their challenges and solutions related to rodents on their farms.

  • I have had over 20% of my sweet potatoes damage by voles.  Usually the largest sweet potatoes are the ones half eaten.  The next year I put five “yard windmills” in the sweet potato bed, 100 ft. long, along with a half stick of gum under the black plastic by each plant – cheap gum from the discount food store.  Both were done after I removed the row covers and before the vines spread. That reduced the damage to less than 5%. Very anecdotal and empirical data but worth exploring.  Supposedly the voles do not like vibration of the windmill and eating the gum gives them a bellyache, if fatal I do not know.  Bigger windmills, four inches in diameter and larger, with metal post seem to work better.  How much gum is actually needed I do not know. A SARE  grant in your future.
  • Not the cheapest retrofit, but have had the best luck with making all walls tin or concrete, and having rat traps permanently set at every overhead door jamb, since the seal is not 100%.  Ventilate with in-wall intake and exhaust fans instead of opening doors.
  • I recently tried the tin cats and was happy. Baited them by putting small amount of oats in the trap and tilting it so the grain slid to the end where the screen was. After the mice got a few seed through the screen, they were drawn into the trap to get the remainder. Two mice in the same trap on the first night. The downside is that you have to clean out all the grain each time so it doesn’t hamper the trap mechanism. Have used Contract waxy block in bait stations for at least 4 years. Switching to a different bait because I think they are starting to get a resistance.
  • I’ve been using that old root cellar all winter for 3 years now without any rodent problems. The process of having someone cement hardware cloth over every crack and crevice was time-consuming but really seems to have worked. I think I finally got rid of the rats in my toolshed through a combination of trapping and disturbing their nesting spots. I’m curious about rodent solutions that apply to the field and high tunnel. I’ve tried to keep cats but the fishers get them.
  • I have not had a single animal in the new barn that I built with the 12” concrete knee wall. I partly contribute the success to the fact that I do not set the bins on the ground. They are filled on the trailer and go directly from the trailer to the barn. This reduces the chance that a hitchhiker will take a ride into the barn.

  • We are a very small pumpkin farm and don’t have the storage needs for food, but I use lots of snap traps and dump those little, dead vermin bodies while wearing a happy smile!
  • We have only killed rats by accidentally moving a pallet onto one. Can’t bait them. They are very intelligent.
  • “We have a great barn cat and a Jack Russell terrier for our farm.”
  • Mice – kernel of corn wedged into mousetrap trigger covered in peanut butter. Rats – same as above but do not the set the trap for several nights and remove all other food sources (in chicken hutch empty all food containers) then set the trap.  Putting a milk crate over the trap prevents chickens, cats, dogs from getting caught.  Also works with chipmunks, and occasionally with red squirrels. Voles – hard to trap, run them down and stomp.

REFERENCES

  1. Baker R., Bodman G. and Timm, R. 1994. Rodent-Proof Construction and Exclusion Methods. The Handbook: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. Paper 27.  http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=icwdmhandbook
  2. Hoddenbach, G., Johnson, J., Disalvo, C. 1997. Rodent Exclusion Techniques. A Training Guide for National Park Service Employees. National Park Service. http://www.ehs.ucsb.edu/files/docs/e
    h/ihrodentexclusion.pdf
  3. Simmons, S. 2005. Pest Prevention Construction Guidelines and Practices. CASBO Journal. http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pestmgt/pubs/casbo_article.pdf
  4. UMass Extension. 2008. Rodent Control on Farms. Fact Sheet – https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/fact-sheets/pdf/RodentControl08-44.pdf
  5. University of Maryland Extension. 2014. Rodent Control on Small Poultry Farms. Fact Sheet. https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_docs/publications/FS-
  6. 985%20Rodent%20control%20on%20small%20poultry%20farms.pdf
  7. Pierce, R. 1982. Bait Stations for Controlling Rats and Mice. Fact Sheet G-9444. University of Missouri Extension. http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G9444
  8. Vantassel, S. M., Hygnstrom S. E. and Ferraro, D. M. 2012. Bait Stations for Controlling Rats and Mice. Fact Sheet G1646. https://wildlife.unl.edu/pdfs/bait-stations-controlling-rats-mice.pdf.

Finish Surfaces for Produce and Food Areas

This cooler space was finished with Trusscore PVC panels resulting in a smooth, cleanable surface.

Download an updated PDF version of this information here!

Smooth and cleanable surfaces are an important aspect of areas where produce is washed, packed, stored and processed.  Many farms are investing in renovations and expansions of these areas and are seeking materials to meet this “finish surface” need regardless of specific regulation.  Meanwhile, food processing companies are often required to incorporate these materials due to regulation.  This is a summary of some of the finish surface materials that are available, their pros, cons and pricing at this time.

 

Notes:

A properly outfitted cooler results in a clean install both visually, and physically. Note the use of trim pieces to close gaps at corners.
  • These are not necessarily compliant for food contact surfaces; they are meant to be finish materials for areas where food is being washed, packed or stored.  The general guidance is “smooth and cleanable.” Check with the appropriate local and/or state enforcement agency to confirm applicability to your project.
  • The prices listed are material cost only. The products differ in with regard to installation labor.  For example, flexible sheathing like FRP will require some sort of rigid wall material to mount to where as rigid panels such as Trusscore, Extrutech and Utilite can be installed on top of furring strips.  No installation costs have been captured in the prices listed.
  • Links to manufacturer info are included.  Most manufacturers sell via distribution channels.  Check with your local building supply company for availability and current pricing. As with most materials, higher volume purchasing generally results in lower unit costs.
  • The pricing on these materials is quite variable depending on the source, when you obtain a quote, the quantity being ordered and how it is delivered. The listed price is the best information available at the time of writing.  Shop around and obtain quotes from several distributors.
    Several manufacturer’s use panel locking mechanisms such as the tongue and groove system found in Trusscore. This provides for a smooth finish and hides the fasteners.

    Common shapes of available trim options to cover and seal all edges and seams. This keeps water from seeping behind the finish surface and entering the walls which can lead to molds and mildews and structural damage.
  • Most manufacturer webpages include an easy to find, specific, installation guide for their product that will be helpful in guiding installation.
  • FRP panels use H or J channel trim between pieces and corners which are calked in place to ensure a moisture proof seam. Follow the manufactures installation procedures.

    Ribcore 3’ or 9’ rib pattern options for ceilings

 

Doser for Small Scale Vegetable Washing with Sanitizer

I recently put together a simple doser for manually measuring accurate doses of sanitizer into wash water solutions.  It is really just a homemade burette. The process of mixing a treatment dose of santizer requires metering a specific dose of concentrate into a larger volume of water.  I have also created a calculator to help with that.  It is important to always have a copy of the official product “label” (not necessarily the same thing as the label on the container).  For easy reference, labels for typical sanitizers are linked below. Please check with your supplier to be sure you have the most recent version for the product you are using and the intended application.

There are a number of options available to avoid actually pouring these chemicals when dosing a mix tank.  You can download a summary of these options here.  When pouring them, splashing and spills can occur which are best avoided due to the corrosive and hazardous nature of the chemicals at stored concentrations. Even when using enclosed dispensing options, wear proper personal protective equipment including goggles and resistant gloves in case there are unexpected leaks or spills.

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Some of the dispensing options available include:

  • Dosatron – $940-$1000 – Allows for injection of sanitizing chemical directly into the flow stream of water being used in the process.  Measurement is done by adjusting flow ratio similar to a fertigation system.
  • Goat Throat – $299 – GoatThroat 300 Pump with Viton seals. Allows a manual, enclosed pumping with integral valve.   No closed measurement.
  • EnviroSelect Dispensing Pump (BioSafe Safety Value Pack) – $75 – Allows a manual pumping of liquid directly from container without pouring.  No integral valve, and no closed measurement.

When I reviewed these options, I felt there was still a need for something at the lower end of use volume.  Something that would work for 30 to 300 gallon washing batches.  So that is why I put together the assembly that is posted on FarmHack with a parts cost of less than $50 and assembly time of less than 1 hour.  I think it may be helpful. Let me know what you think, and feel free to join in the design discussion on FarmHack.

Practical Produce Safety – April 11, 2013 – Vergennes/Monkton

Hans Estrin gets the class oriented for the day.
Hans Estrin gets the class oriented for the day.

Had a great time talking about all the ways we can get sick from produce related pathogens yesterday.  The good news is that the bulk of the workshop was focused on ways to mitigate the risks.

The Practical Produce Safety workshop series coordinated by Ginger Nickerson (UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture) and Hans Estrin (UVM Extension Community Food Network) is an informative and pragmatic way to get up to speed on produce safety measures in field practices, harvest, rinsing, packing and storage. This session was co-sponsored by Annie Harlow with ACORN.

I was glad to contribute a little bit on the latter topic; storage.  Slides from my presentation are available here.

Thanks also to Rachel Shattman of Bella Farm for hosting a charrette walkthrough of her wash/pack and storage facilities.  That provided a very real component to the course (and the Apple Crisp was excellent as well!)

FIDO – A Do-it-yourself Temperature Monitor with Text Message Alerts

As I’ve mentioned in several other posts, I think the continual monitoring of conditions in greenhouses and food storage spaces is incredibly important for quality and safety and insightful for any operation. There is a really clever design for a do-it-yourself temperature monitoring system called Fido, on the FarmHack site.  It uses an Arduino control and electronics platform, a cheap cell phone, and a few other pretty inexpensive pieces to do the job.

“A farmer-built electronic tool that can monitor greenhouse temperature, record greenhouse data, and alert the farmer to problems in the greenhouse via cell phone text message. This tool will be much more affordable and useful than commercially available greenhouse alarms (which rely on landline connections or internet connections, which usually aren’t available in the greenhouse).

I’ll be trying to add RH monitoring to this soon, and will update the post when that is complete.

Wash and Pack Stations

This is a great video overview from the Cornell Cooperative Extension Small Farms Project with helpful guidance on wash and pack station layout. More on the Cornell Small Farm Project can be found here.  This video was part of a NE-SARE funded project.

Some highlights:

  • Cover – prepare for all conditions; rain, wind, cold, heat
  • Lighting – ensure plenty either naturally or artificially
  • One Directional Flow – dirty on one end and clean on the other, work zones, specialty zones
  • Avoid extra and repeated steps
  • Bench/Counter Height – 30″ is comfortable for an average person
  • Some benches lower than the working surface for packing bins (keep the top of the bin level with the counter)
  • Containment – back splash and fencing to prevent loss of produce to the ground
  • Water sources – consider overhead routing and multiple taps
  • Water drains – where will the water go?
  • Float valve for wash tanks
  • Dedicated area for record keeping, dedication to record keeping
  • Marked containers, color coding bins (dirty vs. clean, crop specific)
  • Creature comforts such as floor mats, etc.
  • Logistics – pre vs. post market