Workshop teaches safe handling of food
By Sara Gregory
Eleazar Figueroa’s hands looked clean after he washed them in cold water. But under a black light, Figueroa’s hands lit up with “contaminants.”
Figueroa’s hands were covered with orange florescent dye to demonstrate how easy it is for salmonella and other bacteria to spread.
He was one of about 35 Patterson Farm workers Tuesday who heard from Darrell Blackwelder, a Cooperative Extension agent, about safe food-handling practices.
And as Blackwelder demonstrated with the florescent dye and black light, careful hand washing with hot water and soap is crucial to keeping food safe.
“I was surprised the way salmonella can get into stuff and how easily it is spread,” Figueroa said.
Blackwelder does demonstrations about food safety at about five farms in Rowan County with the help of Miriam Basso, a migrant education coordinator from the Rowan-Salisbury School System who translates for Spanish-speaking workers.
Making sure all farm workers wash their hands frequently and thoroughly is the most important step in keeping food safe for consumers, Blackwelder said.
“You’re handling food for people,” he said. “You’re the first step before it goes to people’s plates.”
Tuesday’s lesson was planned weeks before the salmonella outbreak that has sickened people in 17 states.
“It has really affected tomato production in the U.S.,” Blackwelder told the workers.
“If the food is not safely handled, then you can’t sell it.”And if farms can’t sell their produce, then workers won’t be able to keep their jobs, either.
At Patterson Farm, Melissa Roach, who supervises the packing house, says the farm already emphasizes safety.
Workers wash their hands after using the restroom and then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and put on gloves and hairnets before touching the tomatoes. The farm also shows workers videos about food safety and has monthly meetings to discuss safe practices, Roach said.
“They know how it is from start to finish,” she said.
Contact Sara Gregory at 704-797-4257 or sgregory @salisburypost.com.