By: Billy Mitchell
Totes, fish baskets, buckets, RPCs, and more – harvest bins on a farm go by many names. At the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association conference, TOFGA for short, farmers Lorig of Middle Ground Farm and Finnegan of Steelbow Farm presented about the bins they love, how and why they use them, and best practices on cleaning and sanitizing these important food contact surfaces.
The presentation, supported by the Local Food Safety Collaborative (an FDA-funded initiative to provide training, education, and technical assistance to local food producers), had an active audience of growers asking questions about techniques and strategies used to keep harvest bins well maintained. Feedback involved keeping bins off the ground both in the field and in the wash/pack area, utilizing a Tote-in-a-Tote method or garden carts, and pairing the right bin with the right produce – some bins are better suited for salad greens while others are a much better fit for a heavy harvest of sweet potatoes.
Lorig and Finnegan shared common themes of looking for bins that are easy to carry, stack, clean, and will withstand seasons of use. Bins like buckhorn totes were called out for their ability to seem to be indestructible. It pays to invest in harvest tools that will last! Finnegan also talked about the importance of having some bins for harvest and some bins for post-harvest. This strategy highlighted how important it is to use all the amazing brains on the farm, from manager to employee to volunteer, to develop strategies that keep a good flow in the wash/pack area and help reduce risks of cross-contamination by keeping bins that may have gotten dirty in the field separate from the clean bins you’ll be using in your clean cold storage.
To comply with food safety standards, and to help keep the bins in good working order, growers in the audience also shared how they develop cleaning and sanitizing schedules and the importance of using detergents (like a liquid dish soap or Simple Green) for cleaning and sanitizers (like SaniDate 5.0 or Germicidal Clorox Bleach) that are approved for food contact surfaces. Lorig pointed out that visually assessing a bin each time before use, looking to see that it appears to be in good condition, is an important part of any cleaning and sanitizing schedule. The session wrapped up by sharing tools that growers can use to help strengthen their cleaning and sanitizing practices, like using the University of Vermont Extension Sanitizer Dose Calculator or exploring different brush options for their farms. Color coded brushes were passed around the room as people discussed what they like and don’t like about their current brushes and the importance of being able to clean the tools you use to clean your bins. Helpful hint – wondering what to get your produce growing sweetie for Valentines Day? Some color coded brushes could be a great gift!
Interested in the work TOFGA is doing? Please visit their website for more information and upcoming events. Looking for more food safety information? Please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news, including information on opportunities with the Missouri Farmers Union.
This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.