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- Small Farms, Local Food, and COVID-19
Access to credible information is important during any public health crisis. Faculty in the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food systems are working with community partners to provide current information that is relevant for small farms and local food systems. As the pandemic progresses, we may update or add to these Frequently Asked Questions.
COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through person to person contact. The virus spreads in droplets or aerosols (fine spray) and can infect a new person through the eyes, nose and mouth. Airborne is a potential vector and the virus may be stable for hours and days on surfaces. Recent research shows that infected people with little to no symptoms may spread the virus.
Scientists with the National Institute of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton found that the virus was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The results provide key information about the stability of the virus, and suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects. Current guidelines are to maintain at least six feet between people to avoid contact with infected droplets.
Since this outbreak is during cold, flu and allergy season, it is helpful to differentiate symptoms of COVID-19 from other common illnesses. WebMD reports that “COVID-19 is a lower respiratory tract infection, which means that most of the symptoms are felt in the chest and lungs. That’s different from colds that bring on an upper respiratory tract infection, where you get a runny nose and sinus congestion. Those symptoms seem to be mostly absent for people with COVID-19, though they’re not unheard of.” According to Healthline, “the main symptoms of the novel coronavirus are fever, tiredness, dry cough, and shortness of breath.”
CDC: How COVID-19 spreads: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/transmission.html
Healthline: Not sure you have COVID-19? Here are the symptoms for coronovirus, flu, and allergies: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/flu-allergies-coronavirus-different-symptoms
WebMD: know the symptoms of COVID-19: https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200310/know-the-symptoms-of-covid19
COVID-19 is not considered a foodborne illness. It is always important to ensure that sick employees stay home from work, and that all employees practice good hygiene. The FDA, CDC, USDA, California Department of Public Health and European Food Safety Authority all report that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food.
FDA: Food safety and the coronavirus disease: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
USDA Coronavirus information: https://www.usda.gov/coronavirus
California Department of Public Health: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/Coronavirus%20Disease%202019%20and%20Food%20Industry.pdf
European Food Safety Authority: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/coronavirus-no-evidence-food-source-or-transmission-route
Sanitizers don’t work on dirty hands or food contact surfaces: clean, rinse and then sanitize.
Farms should make handwashing stations and/or hand sanitizer available to all employees and customers. Employees should wash their hands whenever they may have become contaminated, such as after touching contaminated surfaces or touching their face. Hand washing and social distancing are some of the most important practices we can implement to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Disposable gloves may be helpful in some circumstances, but only if they are used correctly.
Wash hands before and after putting on gloves, and change them if you touch a potentially contaminated surface. Detailed instructions for using gloves are provided in the link below.
Surface sanitizers are also an important tool for reducing the risk of spread. Disinfect food contact surfaces on a regular basis, including: reusable bins and buckets, railings, doorknobs, tables, etc. Identify shared equipment and other contact points, make a list and add to the cleaning regime. The World Health Organization has published instructions for small-scale production of hand sanitizers (see resources).
CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. The virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure. The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, these are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.
At markets sampling is suspended to minimize touch points. Add a hand washing station. Vendors should practice good hand hygiene; use disposable gloves when handling money, when possible designate separate people for handling money/cards and handling products, and handle and package items for customers. If money is handled, hands should be washed or hand sanitizer should be used afterward. Consider pre-packaging food before going to the market to limit customer contact with the food. Each market vendor in Oregon must have a social distancing officer that enforces 6 foot spacing between people in the booth.
Focus on hand-washing, social distancing, and surface sanitization.
For Organic farmers:
Oregon Tilth: Sanitizers: https://tilth.org/knowledgebase_category/sanitation/
Oregon Farmers Market Association COVID-19 Guide https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JHZRWVO17vxC9BqLVupdLNzZ19TTT-ZLXlkSFo74koc/edit
Oregon Health Authority and OSHA Farm Guidance for: Farmers/Employers: https://sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le2350.pdf Translation to Spanish is pending. Guidance for Farm Workers: https://sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le2349.pdf Translation to Spanish is pending.
Proper glove use fact sheet: https://dmna.ny.gov/foodservice/docs/toolbox/proper_gloveuse.pdf
World Health Organization COVID-19 advice on using face masks: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
Talk with your employees about Coronavirus, how it spreads, and how to prevent getting infected. You should review your sick leave policy with all employees. The first advice for people who are sick is to stay home. Anyone that has a fever, cough, and shortness of breath should call a medical provider before visiting a care facility.
Do you provide paid sick leave for your employees? If you do not, will employees feel financially obligated to come to work even if they are sick? Employees sometimes come to work believing they will face punishment or firing if they miss work. Be sure your employees understand that their health and that of their co-workers comes first. Communicate and make a plan to cover for sick employees. See Fact Sheets in link below, provided in both English and Spanish.
Provide guidance to help employees clean and disinfect employer-provided housing. Follow up with employees and manage the process to be sure that this happens. Set up a regular weekly and daily schedule for cleaning.
Oregon BOLI: COVID-10/Coronavirus in Oregon: Facts about Sick Time: https://www.oregon.gov/boli/WHD/OST/Pages/Index.aspx
COVID-19 Related Business Layoffs, Closures, and Unemployment Insurance Benefits: https://www.oregon.gov/employ/Pages/COVID-19.aspx
For Organic operations:
Check with your certifier if you are in doubt about the NOP compliance of any inputs. Allowed detergents and sanitizers for food contact surfaces and equipment in Organic operations can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/8%20Cleaners%20and%20Sanitizers%20FINAL%20RGK%20V2.pdf
Cl2 concentration in sanitizer effluent must be less than 4ppm. NOP Guidance: The Use of Chlorine Materials in Organic Production and Handling https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/5026.pdf
“FDA is not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.” https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/Coronavirus%20Disease%202019%20and%20Food%20Industry.pdf
Emphasize that protecting public health is paramount to your business and share your food safety protocols to prevent the spread of infection. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. You can communicate to employees and customers that before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety.
Now is the time to benefit from our vibrant local food system! CSA, farmers markets, online ordering, etc. are all ways to reduce the number of hands touching your food. Fresh vegetables and unprocessed food help to promote good immune system function. For customers who feel the need to stock up on food products, encourage them to do so through their local farms. Emphasize items that store well and prepare meals with fresh produce that can be frozen. Reinforce the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.
Share the positives through your list servs and on social media! During this stressful time, our local food system is already set up to offer increased food safety to eaters. CSA models allow eaters to avoid crowds and grocery stores, and online and delivery systems are quickly ramping up to get local food to local eaters in the safest possible way.
Your customers need access to food in order to stay healthy, and well managed local farms and food systems can be consistent with social distancing efforts that are critical during this pandemic.
The National Young Farmers Coalition has put together a guide for farmers with information on direct sales software platforms, direct sales models, and software platform details. Farmer's Guide to Direct Sales Software Platforms: https://www.youngfarmers.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Farmers-Guide-to-Direct-Sales-Software-Platforms.pdf
Here are a few online sales platforms to check out, this is not a comprehensive list, nor are we endorsing any of these. Oregon Tilth webinar https://tilth.org/education/resources/online-sales-platforms-for-farmers/ provides an overview of options and key questions for farmers to consider when looking at direct-to-consumer online sales: We recommend reaching out to your farmer networks to get recommendations on platforms currently used:
Here are a few pointers on marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic from businesses that offer online sales platform:
The USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program - Direct Farmer Payments https://www.farmers.gov/cfap
The State of Oregon, Oregon Health Authority and national Center for Disease Control are all providing information and policies to help manage the pandemic. Restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus can come from Federal, State and local government, so stay up to date on policies in your area. On March 23 Oregon’s governor issued an Executive Order 20-12 Stay directing Oregonians to stay home to the maximum extent possible.
About Executive Order 20-12:
Retail businesses closed by Executive Order 20-12 include:
OSU Extension is following the public health guidance of our local county health departments, the Oregon Health Authority, and the national Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Oregon State government announcements about COVID-19: https://www.oregon.gov/newsroom/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?