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Publication #FSHN10-11

Food Safety on the Farm: Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices – Sanitary Facilities1

Renee Goodrich Schneider, Keith R. Schneider, and Alexandra Chang2

As part of the Food Safety on the Farm series, a collection that reviews the generally recognized principles of GAPs as they relate to produce, primarily at the farm level and with particular focus on fresh Florida crops and practices, this publication focuses on GAPs and GHPs relating specifically to sanitary facilities. The publications in this series can be found online at the EDIS Website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_food_safety_on_the_farm.

Introduction

Good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good handling practices (GHPs) encompass the general procedures that growers, packers, and processors of fresh fruits and vegetables should follow to ensure the safety of their product. GAPs usually deal with preharvest practices (i.e., in the field), while GHPs cover postharvest practices, including packing and shipping. The seven other Florida Cooperative Extension factsheets in the "Food Safety on the Farm" series focus on specific aspects of the GAPs program and how they relate to Florida crops and practices.

Microbial Hazards

The term “sanitary facilities” refers to toilets, handwashing stations, and other places where human wastes may be present. Human wastes are known to harbor pathogenic microorganisms that cause disease in workers and consumers of fresh produce. Wastes in the field or packing facility must be managed properly in order to decrease the risk of contaminating produce.

Regulatory Background

The federal government regulates standards for field and facility sanitation practices during pre- and postharvest operations of produce. The sanitation provisions in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) describe requirements for sanitary facilities in agricultural establishments (1). Included are standards for drinking water and toilet and handwashing facilities and their maintenance, such as the maximum distance employees can be expected to walk to facilities and how often facilities should be cleaned.

Another section of the CFR outlines standards for sanitary facilities in permanent places of employment such as in an enclosed packing facility (2). The CFR is also a resource for good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for facilities, equipment, and production of foods in buildings or plants (3). Guidance on water supplies, plumbing, drainage, and sewage and refuse disposal are included.

In response to and recognition of growing food safety issues, the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed by Congress and signed by the president in January 2011. The new law requires companies to implement a food safety program that significantly minimizes potential hazards and risk of foodborne illness. Taking immediate steps to implement GAPs in sanitary facilities will benefit companies and overall produce safety.

State and local regulatory authorities can adopt mandatory and more specific regulations. Tomato operations in Florida must follow sanitary facility standards among other Tomato Good Agricultural Practices (T-GAPs) during all steps of production (4). These guidelines found in the Tomato Best Practices Manual have been made into rule by Fresh Tomato Inspection Law 5G-6, which took effect July 1, 2008 (5).

How to Control Potential Hazards

GAPs play an imperative role in the reduction of potential hazards. Implementing and maintaining sanitation standards protect employees and consumers from foodborne disease and lower the risk of contaminating fresh produce. The following GAPs in toilet and handwashing facilities and sewage disposal have been highlighted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (6).

Toilet Facilities and Handwashing Stations

The following GAPs should be considered to ensure that toilet and handwashing facilities are in good sanitary condition.

  • Toilet facilities (both fixed and/or portable) should be accessible. Facilities must be reasonably near employees’ work areas and available at all times, not only when workers are on break. Accessible facilities help lower the chance that workers will relieve themselves in undesignated areas, such as in fields, and thereby risk contamination of produce.

  • Toilet facilities should be properly located. To prevent possible contamination of fields, soil, and animals, toilet facilities should be properly constructed and located in areas where there is little potential for runoff in the event of heavy rain. Facilities should also be located away from sources of irrigation water.

  • Toilet facilities and handwashing stations should be well supplied. Toilet facilities should be well supplied with toilet paper. Handwashing facilities should provide a basin, potable water, liquid soap, single-use towels, and a waste container. Wash water should be captured for disposal out of the production area.

  • All facilities should be kept clean. Facilities must be operational, adequately ventilated, and cleaned regularly. Handwashing basins or containers used to store or transport water must be emptied, cleaned, and sanitized regularly.

Sewage Disposal

Human wastes from toilets must be safely managed and disposed of in order to prevent drainage into fields and possible contamination of water, soil, animals, crops, and workers. Refer to the regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the CFR for the use and disposal of sewage (7). Consider the following GAPs when establishing sewage disposal practices.

  • Use caution when servicing portable toilets. Allow sewage transport trucks direct access to toilet facilities to ensure proper collection and disposal of wastes.

  • Have a plan to contain and treat spills and leaks. Be prepared for the event of a spill or leak into produce fields.

Endnotes

  1. Code of Federal Regulations. 2010a. Occupational safety and health standards for agriculture: field sanitation. Title 29, Part 1928.110. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Federal Register.

  2. Code of Federal Regulations. 2010b. Occupational health and safety standards: sanitation. Title 29, Part 1910.141, subpart J. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Federal Register.

  3. Code of Federal Regulations. 2010c. Current good manufacturing practice in manufacturing, packing, or holding human food. Title 21, Part 110. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Federal Register.

  4. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 2007. Tomato Best Practices Manual. Tallahassee, FL: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Food Safety. Available from: http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/fs/TomatoBestPractices.pdf. Accessed Mar 10, 2011.

  5. Florida Administrative Code. 2007. Rule 5G-6. Tomato inspection. Available from: https://www.flrules.org/gateway/chapterhome.asp?chapter=5g-6. Accessed Mar 10, 2011.

  6. Food and Drug Administration. 1998. Guide to minimize microbial food safety hazards for fresh fruits and vegetables. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FDA. Available from: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/ProduceandPlanProducts/UCM169112.pdf. Accessed Mar 10, 2011.

  7. Code of Federal Regulations. 2010d.Standards for the use or disposal of sewage sludge. Title 40, Part 503. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Federal Register.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN10-11, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date March 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Renee Goodrich Schneider, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; Keith R. Schneider, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; and Alexandra Chang, former graduate student, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.