]The American public is growing increasingly skeptical about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. Despite consensus in the scientific community that foods containing GM ingredients are safe, nearly half of Americans believe otherwise. Younger adults are also more likely to regard GM foods a health risk.
In order to address misunderstandings about GM foods and provide information about the applications of genetic engineering in agriculture and other fields, a team is developing a program to enhance science literacy for educators and young adults. The team is collaborating to create a standards-based curriculum and laboratory-based professional development for secondary school teachers on genetic engineering. The project aims to build the knowledge and confidence of educators and provide them with materials to deliver lessons related to genetic engineering in their classrooms.
High school teachers will participate in training at the Storrs campus, where they will utilize laboratory resources and build connections with academia and industry professionals. The networking opportunity will also allow educators to share career opportunities in the field of genetics with students. In addition to the professional development workshop, the program will prepare simpler exercises that can be taught outside of classroom and without the resources of a lab setting, such as during 4-H youth activities, to introduce scientific concepts.
Facemasks and social distancing have become the norm in all parts of our lives. Farm stands, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations; farmers’ markets and pick-your-own operations have remained open despite the pandemic. However, the operations have changed to adhere to regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Before you visit the farm or farmers’ market, there are a few things the farmer wants you to
Wear your mask at all times. We are responsible for the health and safety of our
family, workers, and all of our farm visitors. Everyone must comply.
Minimize the number of people in your group. Although parts of the operation
are outdoors, we still have to follow state and CDC guidelines on the number of
visitors on the farm at one time. Reducing the number of people in your group helps.
Keep your children close at all times. If you do bring your children, make sure
they stay with you the entire time.
Don’t eat at the farm. Do not eat anything at the farm. If it’s a pick-your-own
operation, do not eat any fruit in the field. Wait until you get home, wash the berries
or other produce and then eat it. Do not bring snacks from home to the farm either.
Visit http://www.foodsafety.uconn.edu/ for more information on food safety.
Leave your pets at home. We love our animals too, but in these challenging times
we cannot have them at our farms or farmers’ markets. If someone was sick, they
can increase the spread of disease. Please leave your dogs at home.
Practice physical distancing. Even though we are outside or picking in the field we
need to maintain our physical distances from others. Our farms and markets are
setting up signs and marking areas for physical distancing to the best of our ability.
Please help us out and stay conscious of your proximity to other farm visitors and
Stay home if you feel ill. Please help us keep everyone safe and healthy.
Smile. Even with your facemask on, we’ll know that you’re smiling. We can’t wait to
see you at the farm, and appreciate your continued support.
Although these challenging times have created a new normal for all of us, going to a farm stand, pick-your-own operation or farmers’ market can restore some semblance of normal activity. Farmers want you to visit and purchase products. Crops are ripening daily and we all want to enjoy some Connecticut grown foods. Keep these tips in mind as you visit the farm so we can all enjoy the best that our farms have to offer.
To find a farm operation near you visit http://ctgrownmap.com/.
UConn Extension has collaborated with our partners, communities and stakeholders for over 100 years. We are proud to serve all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The worldwide pandemic involving COVID-19 (coronavirus) has produced unprecedented challenges in the UConn community and around the world. Our services continue during this challenging time.
We are still delivering the science-based information you need. We are ready to answer your questions. Consult with us by email or on the phone. All of our educators are working and ready to serve you. Ask us a question online.
We are developing virtual programs to offset canceled in-person learning opportunities. Our educators are writing and updating fact sheets and other information. You have access to educational materials on our YouTube channel. We are growing our suite of online resources every day to meet the needs of our communities and stakeholders.
UConn CAHNR Extension educators have curated resources related to COVID-19 for our statewide audiences, including families, businesses, and agricultural producers.
Listings of open farms/farmers’ markets and school emergency meal distribution
Parents and families with children out of school can use the resources from our UConn 4-H program to provide new educational activities for youth. Activities available will keep youth engaged and learning and are appropriate for a variety of age groups.
A list of resources has been collected for Connecticut businesses. It is a clearinghouse of resources, and not an official site. Business owners can connect to the state resources we provide for official and legal advice.
Agricultural producers are still working on farms, in greenhouses and along the coast in Long Island Sound during the COVID-19 outbreak. Extension educators have developed resources for specific agricultural sectors, including fruit and vegetable farms, aquaculture, and nursery and landscape professionals. Links to important updates from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture also are available.
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.
The following information has been compiled for the general public and for those who come under essential businesses in Connecticut.
FDA has recently stated that food supply is safe among COVID-19 and there are no current disruptions in the supply chain. Consumers should be confident in the safety of their food. To read more about coronavirus impacting the food industry please visit FDA leaders_food supply is safe.
If you have questions such as
How do I maintain social distancing in my food production/processing facility and food retail establishment where employees typically work within close distances?
A worker in my food production/processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I need to do to continue operations while protecting my other employees?
or other concerns regarding Food safety and COVID-19, please visit FDA Latest FAQs
As a consumer if you have questions such as
Should I mist produce with a very diluted bleach solution (a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water) and let it air dry before I eat it to avoid contracting COVID-1?
Does cooking foods kill the virus that causes COVID-19? (Short answer- YES)
Since, it is believed that cooking can kill viruses, it is recommended that the high-risk population (especially under current circumstances) such as immunocompromised hosts and seniors, avoid the consumption of RAW produce.
Other food safety resources:
For questions that food industry in other states (NY and neighboring) may have such as
How long can COVID-19 remain viable on different surfaces?
Can animals raised for food and animal products be source of infection with COVID-19?
Attached document for list of frequently touched surfaces and how to clean them
Under the Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan program,a qualifying business or nonprofit organization can apply for a loan of up to $75,000 or three months of operating expenses (whichever is lesser). All of the information can be found at CT_Recovery Bridge Loan Program
The American Farmland Trust’s Farmer Relief Fundwill award farmers with cash grants of up to $1000 each to help them weather the current storm of market disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis. Initially eligible applicants include any small and mid-sized direct-market producers. For complete information go to the ATF website at Farmer Relief Fund.
As always, if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. At UConn extension, we will try to answer your queries as soon as possible and keep you updated as we know more.
As we understand more about the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 worldwide, we are constantly updating information and resources to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community in Connecticut. Please use this resource document with links to information relevant to CT farmers.
It can be easier to adapt to a constantly changing scenario if there are studies or examples to follow. Some farmers markets have changed the way they do business to implement some of the best food safety practices. Here is information from what some farmers’ markets and CSAs are doing. The following was adapted from information compiled by Chris Callahan, UVM.
Carrborro, NC Farmer’s Market Case Study – NC State Extension has posted a summary of what the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has done. Briefly, this included communication with market customers, physical distancing by rearranging the market layout, rounding prices for limited use of coins, running a “tab” for customers to minimize cash transactions, no samples, no tablecloths to ease sanitation, and the addition of a hand washing station among other things.
Minimize the Number of Touches (CSA) – One CSA has decided to change how they distribute to an urban market. They have previously trucked larger bins of produce to a distribution site where customers would select their own produce to fill their share. They have decided to pack the shares to order at the farm prior to distribution to minimize the number of people touching the produce. Another alternative would be packing shares to order at the market.
Minimize the Number of Touches (Farmers’ Market) – The Bennington Farmers’ Market in Vermont has shifted to online ordering and pre-bagged orders from each farm that are combined into larger collective orders delivered to each customer via a drive-up system. The biggest decision was deciding that they’d actually continue to have the market. The new approach required the addition of an on-line ordering system (Google Forms for now), coordination among farms and some serious organization at the market. Orders are organized alphabetically; pickups are scheduled with a quarter of the alphabet every 30 minutes. People won’t get out of their cars.
What are some other farms doing? Some farms have written and implemented specific response plans or taken other measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. For example, Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough, Maine have developed a detailed, yet flexible farm plan available online.
If you would like to share what your operation is doing to ensure food safety and have suggestions for the community to combat COVID-19, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. Meanwhile, stay healthy and safe and we will keep you updated with the latest information as we learn more.
As we are closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic in our community, we at UConn Extension are trying our best to bring you the most updated information from across the country for safe production at your farm operations.
Here are some links to info-sheets related to coronavirus for Farmers Markets, Food Banks, U-Pick Farms, Grocery Stores and Food Services.
Use of Gloves:Although gloves could reduce virus spread, they need to be worn with caution, since they can be misused i.e. contamination can happen if gloves touch dirty surfaces and then the food. Also, if food workers are sick and wipe their nose with their hands, or cough on hands (with or without gloves) and touch the food, it is no better than not wearing gloves. If you have been properly trained to use disposable gloves, make sure to wash your hands before wearing them and after removing them.
Hope this information is helpful, we will update this on our UConn food safety website as well. Meanwhile, for best practices for food safety at home please read this article UConn_basic food safety practices.
Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19
The situation with current COVID-19 pandemic is escalating unpredictably and as we are monitoring the virus spread in CT, here are some tips for farmers to practice safe food production.
This information is adapted from a blog post by Chris Callahan from University of Vermont.
Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19
The current COVID-19 pandemic is a common concern and many are wondering what they can and should do. The information here is intended to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community. If you have concerns or additional suggestions please email us (email addresses at the end) or the CT Department of Agriculture ProduceSafety@ct.gov
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected. One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. Much more information is available at the CDC Situational Summary page.
What Should Growers Do?
Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
Practice Physical Distancing – By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and aftereating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly, then dispose of paper towels in a covered container.
Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying –Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment, and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site.
Everything Above – Growers, retail food market owners, and farmers market managers should do all the things above. Does your market have a hand washing station? More guidance for food and lodging businesses is available from the Vermont Department of Health.
Communicate with your Customers – Consider reaching out to your customers and recommend they stay home if they are ill. Have you informed your customers about any changes in your hours or policies?
Consider Alternative Delivery – Some markets are taking this opportunity to launch pre-ordering and electronic payment options to enable social distancing at market. Some markets are moving to a drive-through pickup option.
Reinforce the Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – We are fortunate to have so many growers who do a great job with storage crops and winter production. This means our community has access to fresh fruits and vegetables that are important to their immune systems at this time of need. Be sure to promote the nutritional value of your products! But, keep in mind that promotion of your products should be within reason. Avoid making overly broad or unsupported health claims. Fresh produce contains many minerals and nutrients important for immune health which may reduce the severity and duration of an illness. Fun Fact: Pound for pound, that storage cabbage in your cooler has as nearly as much vitamin C as oranges.
What should CSA Farmers do?
Communicate with your CSA Members – Consider reaching out to your members to let them know of any payment plans you can offer, to help ease the burden for families that are coping with unexpected loss of income or childcare costs. Remind members of your commitment to food safety, but don’t make broad claims about the risk of unsafe produce in grocery stores which most people in our communities still rely upon.
Consider your CSA pick up – Members this year may be more concerned about the space and flow of their CSA pick up, looking for more distance between each other and their produce bags as they gather their veggies. Customers may prefer pre-bagged greens and appreciate other pre-weighed items for ease of selection. There could even be renewed interest in the CSA box model over the CSA mix & match model. Prepare for the need for modifications in order to ease concerns members may be feeling after weeks or months of social distancing.
Please stay safe and stay tuned for further updates as this is a constantly changing scenario.
Industrywide Food Safety Initiative Focuses on Small/Artisanal Ice Cream Companies
The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced that food safety resources for small and artisanal ice cream manufacturers, including an online class and technical support, are now available. Dennis D’Amico, one of our Extension educators was on the team that developed these initiatives.
These initiatives, which are similar to tools created in 2017 for the artisan/farmstead cheese community, are designed to help companies mitigate their food safety risks.
This initiative was led by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an organization founded by dairy farmers in 2008 to convene the entire industry on common goals and opportunities. Innovation Center experts formed the Artisan Ice Cream Food Safety Advisory Team that includes the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, academics, company owners and food safety experts from across the dairy industry.
“We created these tools with input from the owners of small ice cream companies and learned what can most effectively work for them,” said Tim Stubbs, Vice President of Product Research and Food Safety for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “As a result, we think these resources have been designed in a way that these companies can help assure consumer confidence in their products.”
The resources include an online course offered through North Carolina State University titled “Food Safety Basics for Artisan Ice Cream Makers.” The course includes 10 interactive modules on the importance of food safety, identifying hazards, preventive controls, design, plant practices, sanitation and environmental monitoring. The course is available free through July 31, 2020 (discount code INTRO-FREE). Visit https://foodsafety.ncsu.edu/food-safety-basics-for-ice-cream-makers or www.usdairy.com/artisan for information.
A new website — www.safeicecream.org – is hosted by IDFA and offers self-study resources, guides, templates and tools designed to quickly help manufacturers.
Also available are workshops that provide direct coaching and technical support for small businesses as they write their food safety plans.
Dairy Processors: Are you interested in designing and implementing an environmental monitoring program (EMP) to improve your food safety program? This course may be for you.
In this eight-hour online course, you will learn alongside virtual dairy processors and apply concepts in the context of a dairy facility. This online course is available on-demand and adapts to your understanding of the materials. These features provide you with the flexibility to progress at your own pace with the confidence you will understand the content.
Dennis D’Amico, our Extension educator in the Department of Animal Science at UConn was one of the educators who developed this course. For more information, or to register, please visit NCSU Food Safety.