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Consider the risks associated with animal intrusion in fields before harvest

Consider the risks associated with animal intrusion in fields before harvest
By Alison Work and Phillip Tocco
Animal activity on the farm can be a huge risk to food safety when growing fruits and vegetables, which is why preharvest wildlife scouting is so important. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule requires fresh produce growers visually examine their fields and covered produce for signs of potential contamination (CFR 112.83 (b)), and that they take all measures reasonably necessary to identify, and not harvest, covered produce that is likely to be contaminated with animal excreta (CFR 112.112).
How do growers determine, though, what crops are safe to harvest versus what crops are likely to be contaminated? It’s important to consider the type and severity of the animal intrusion in fields before harvest.
Three types of animal intrusion you might find include animal tracks, crop damage and animal scat or feces. In the case of animal tracks, only one instance of tracks in the field carries a relatively low risk. On the other hand, sporadic or widespread animal tracks carry a moderate risk, and a no-harvest buffer zone may need to be created around nearby crops.
Crop damage, such as bite marks or trampled plants, is riskier than animal tracks. Sporadic evidence, such as a few observations of trampled plants throughout the field, is moderately risky. Widespread crop damage is a high risk and indicates significant evidence of contamination. Marking and avoiding harvest around high risk areas of crop damage is a good strategy to reduce the potential for contamination. 
Risks associated with fecal matter in the field are the highest. For even just one instance of fecal matter, the risk of contamination is moderate. Widespread evidence of fecal contamination is very high risk and would justify marking the contaminated area and creating a no-harvest buffer zone around the area where significant feces was found.
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