May 22, 2020Preparedness resource for growers, shippers and handlers shared by PMA
A new self-check preparedness resource was created by the Produce Marketing Association to help fresh produce growers, shippers, packers and handlers evaluate their organization’s preparedness in mitigating the spread of and preventing COVID-19 in their facilities and workforces.
This informal guide was prepared in response to requests and contacts from Produce Marketing Association (PMA) members and widely across the fresh produce supply chain to synthesize and consolidate the key expectations and actions being taken by growers, packers, and handlers during the current phases of the SARSCoV-2 (Coronavirus 19; COVID 19) pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, more than 85% of poll participants stated their business created or updated their initial COVID-19 prevention and worker protection checklist within the last month.
Participants shared changes that their organizations planned and enacted early in an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy:
- extensive cleaning and sanitization of high-trafficked work spaces, with more frequent breaks for cleaning,
- stockpiling and providing individual cloth masks to workers so as not to take away from the medical industry,
- providing clear, informative and educational communications and leadership to workers,
- enacting aggressive social distancing measures in both the field and in the packing house and,
- creating a community “bubble” for workers by providing whatever supplies they needed so that they did not need to leave and put themselves at risk.
Many organizational leaders exhibited the behaviors they wanted from their employees and demonstrated the need for urgency through education and communication.
Challenges in safety
When it comes to H-2A housing for workers, it is difficult to social distance in dormitory type housing. Additionally, many workers are bused in from housing, or carpool to save money. These transportation challenges have caused issues as well, and many companies have either used more buses, or put fewer people on a bus at a time to transport them.
While many worker safety challenges stem from social distancing practices, one participant has noted an even more concerning challenge that will become more of a challenge as the summer months approach: All organizations have been requiring field workers to use face masks when harvesting, whether in the field, tunnel or shade house/greenhouse.
When harvesting in particularly hot weather, workers have found it increasingly difficult to breathe and function normally with the masks on. Depending on the environment and the product that workers are harvesting, organizations have had to provide some flexibility to workers.
In cases of harvesting in open environments, particularly where social distancing is naturally practiced, such as harvesting from bushes that create natural barriers between people, workers have been able to lower their masks below their noses to aid in breathing and functionality. Before workers leave the field they must raise their face masks back above their noses, and partake in extra sanitization.
Look to the future
Most participants stated their organizations are moving forward with normal planting and planning procedures. There has been some drop in demand for crops used in foodservice (such as cherry tomatoes), but demand overall has been consistent with what was expected. In terms of testing, as more regular COVID-19 testing becomes available, many companies will likely enact new measures:
- 48% of poll respondents predict their company will enact regular, proactive testing of employees
- 35% of respondents predict their company will enact reactive testing of all employees if an individual COVID-19 case is discovered
- 26% predict their company will enact reactive testing of employees based on contact tracing only, and
- 17% predict their company will enact broad testing if community or regional cases increase based on testing.
Communication and guidelines from regulatory agencies have been helpful, participants said. One participant went so far as to say surprise visits from a regulatory agency has helped their organization through verifying their protection practices.