Who is eating the produce that I grow?

When adopting food safety practices on the farm, it’s important to remember why and for whom it is being done.

The produce grown and packed by you is food to “somebody.” That seems a little obvious at first, but that somebody is a diverse bunch of individuals. Some of these individuals are particularly sensitive to foodborne illness.

“Somebody” includes the pregnant mother. Her pregnancy has left her immune system much reduced so her baby has a chance to grow. She is encouraged to eat a healthy diet including fresh fruits and vegetables. A pathogen like E. coli or listeria may not be just a bad case of vomiting, it could make her lose the baby.

“Somebody” is an active two-year-old boy who is otherwise healthy, but who lives in the city. His water has always been chlorinated. He’s never played in the dirt. His immune system has never been exposed to soil microbes. His mom makes him eat his vegetables so he can grow up big and strong. One case of food poisoning could send him to the hospital and keep him on dialysis for the rest of his life.

Last summer’s listeria outbreak in cantaloupe, though not the deadliest in history, killed 32 people and one fetus. It sickened another 139 people. The Centers for Disease Control outbreak report stated, “Five of the illnesses were related to a pregnancy; two were diagnosed in newborns and three were diagnosed in pregnant women.” An outbreak of E. coli in North Carolina that sickened 26 people last fall left at least one boy on dialysis for the rest of his life. Both of these outbreaks were within the last year.

Food safety on our farms is, and continues to be serious business. It’s not just about maintaining markets, but maintaining the quality that customers have come to expect from the industry. They are counting on Michigan produce. Let’s not let them down.

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