Farm pets and third party audits are not compatible

Planning on participating in a food safety audit? Better plan on finding a way to confine pets to your home and yard.

As more and more farmers begin businesses selling fresh produce such as vegetables to wholesale markets, third party food safety audits are becoming common in rural Michigan. If you are facing your first audit during the upcoming growing season, now is the time to begin preparing to make the necessary changes in your operation. One of the small items that often trip up beginners is the matter of farm pets.

Unfortunately, farm pets are a part of the mystique that surrounds agriculture. One of the iconic images that many people have of farms is that of the farmer driving around his or her field with their loyal dog sitting on the seat beside them. Another iconic image often associated with farms is a mother cat with a litter of kittens lying on top of a hay bale. In times past, these pets often served a purpose beyond just companionship. Farm dogs helped move and protect livestock and farm cats helped keep down the mouse and rat populations where feed was stored on farms.

But in a more modern farm, where fresh food is being grown for directhuman consumption, animals have a big down side. Animal feces can be a source of food borne illness such as E. coli and should never come in contact in an untreated state with food that will not be thoroughly cooked before consumption. Even if food is going to be thoroughly cooked and processed, animals can be a source of contaminants such as hair, which people do not want in their food supply. A food safety auditor is certainly going to note the presence of pets as a violation and you could potentially fail an audit if they or evidence of them can be found when the auditor visits.

You can continue to enjoy your pets and still pass a food safety audit. But it means that you need to find a way to confine them to areas where food will not be grown, stored or packed. The home and yard are the logical places to keep them, which may require investing in barriers such as fencing. If you are counting on animals such as cats for pest control, you need to consider replacing them with alternatives such as traps or exclusion.

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