Small Farms, Local Food, & COVID-19: What do you need to know?

Author: Oregon State University Small Farms Program

Publish Date: Spring 2020

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 this information at http:// smallfarms/covid-19

How is COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that emerged in December, 2019. It 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. In addition to hygiene and sanitation, social distancing can reduce the likelihood that the virus is transmitted. Recent research shows that infected people with little to no symptoms may spread the virus, this accelerated the spread of the disease in China.

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.”

Am I likely to spread COVID-19 with the food I am selling?

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.

What hygiene and food safety practices will help me prevent COVID-19 infection?

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 smallscale 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, food sampling should be suspended to minimize touch points. Make sure that hand washing stations and sanitizers are available to your customers. Use disposable gloves when handling money or cards, and wash hands afterwards because they could be contaminated with the virus. Designate separate people for handling money and handling produce and clean packaging. Consider pre-packaging food before going to the market to limit customer contact with the food.

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.

What should I be communicating to employees?

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 links 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.

  • CDC guidance for cleaning homes: https://www.cdc. gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/home/ cleaning-disinfection.html
  • Oregon BOLI: COVID-10/Coronavirus in Oregon: Facts about Sick Time: OST/Pages/Index.aspx
  • COVID-19 Related Business Layoffs, Closures, and Unemployment Insurance Benefits https://www.
  • Info Sheet - Worker Health and Hygiene: https://
  • Info – Disinfecting with Bleach https://www.canr.msu. edu/news/covid-19-disinfecting-with-bleach
  • Info Sheet: Homemade Hand Sanitizer – Small scale recipe from World Health Organization formulation Production.pdf
  • Link to a handwashing video from Produce Safety Alliance: watch?v=h8EpfWAmq3o&feature=emb_title
  • World Health Organization: Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19: default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-readyfor- covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=359a81e7_6
  • Multilingual resources related to COVID-19 https:// on-covid-19/
  • 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: FINAL%20RGK%20V2.pdf
  • For Organic operations: Cl2 concentration in sanitizer effluent must be less than 4ppm. NOP Guidance: The Use of Chlorine Materials in Organic Production and Handling files/media/5026.pdf

What should I be communicating to customers?

“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.” Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20 Library/COVID-19/Coronavirus%20Disease%20 2019%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.

What resources are available for the changes I might need to make to my business?

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.

  • Wholesale markets: stay in touch with your buyer so that you know how they are responding to the outbreak.
  • Direct to retail: Explore online sale platforms, see question below regarding options.
  • Community Supported Agriculture: if pick up locations are sanitized and customers practice social distancing, CSA’s may reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
  • Farmers markets: stay in regular communication with your market manager. The Farmers Market Coalition in California is sharing information about COVID-19 response: covid19/. Limit market volume by promoting pre-ordering, alternate pickup locations, or delivery.
  • Restaurant sales: Emphasize other direct-market channels because restaurant sales are plummeting in many cities during the pandemic: https://civileats. com/2020/03/17/small-farms-also-struggle-asrestaurants- shut-down-due-to-coronavirus/
  • This guide from Purdue University can help you navigate these uncertain times by offering ideas on:
    • Changing your business model
    • Meeting the needs of the market
    • Reaching your customer base without increasing potential exposure to COVID-19
    • Continuing to generate income during this difficult period - releases/2020/Q1/a-guide-for-local-producersto- navigate-the-covid-19-outbreak.html

What online sales systems can I use if farmers markets are closed or I close my farm stand?

Here are a few online sales platforms to check out, this is not a comprehensive list, nor are we endorsing any of these. 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:

Here are some questions to ask when you’re choosing which service to work with:

  • How long has your online sales platform been in use?
  • How many farmers are you currently working with?
  • What will it cost my farm to use your platform? What is your fee structure?
  • I’m ready to start selling products right now. What does it take to get started? Is there a wait because of the current increase in demand for online sales platform services?
  • How will your online sales platform integrate with my current website?
  • What is the process for entering the products that I have to sell?
  • How do I update my product list and pricing?
  • Will I be able to set inventory limits so that I don’t oversell products?
  • How does the customer interface work? Is your platform easy to use on a Smartphone?
  • How do customers pay for products?
    • Are credit and debit card fees charged to customers?
    • Can customers pay by check or cash on delivery?
    • Can customers pay with EBT?
    • Is there a way for me offer customers discounts, coupons, and promotions?
  • How long does it take for customer payments to deposit into my farm’s bank account?
  • How is sales tax handled on your platform?
  • Is it possible to integrate your platform with my accounting software?
  • Is it possible to create pack lists directly from your sales platform? How about labels?
  • Does your platform offer any suggestions for delivery routes based on orders?
  • What kind of IT support does your company provide?
  • How is my farm’s sales data used and/or shared?
  • What happens to my farm’s sales data if I stop using your platform?
  • What other features does your platform offer that I should know about?

Where can I go for financial assistance due to COVID-19 business hardship?

It is possible that financial assistance will evolve in response to COVID-19 and the associated recession. Funds could become available from federal, state or local governments to help pay for some costs associated with the pandemic.

The Small Business Administration is planning to provide Disaster Assistance Loans for small businesses impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19): press-releases-media-advisories/sba-providedisaster- assistance-loans-small-businesses-impactedcoronavirus- covid-19

Where can I find reliable information about COVID-19 directives?

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.

The following social distancing orders are currently in place in Oregon, effective March 17 for at least until Aril 28th (it does look to be longer):

  • A statewide cancelation of all events and gatherings larger than 25 people — exempting essential locations like workplaces, grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores. It is additionally recommended that Oregonians avoid gatherings of 10 people or more.
  • Restaurants, bars, and other establishments that offer food or beverages for sale are restricted to carryout and delivery only with no on-site consumption permitted.
  • Food service at health care facilities, workplaces, and other essential facilities will continue.
  • All other businesses are urged to assess their practices, implement strong social distancing measures, and close their doors temporarily if they cannot put the new guidance in place.

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).

Updates are available at Oregon Small