Agriculture seminar emphasizes food safety, disease prevention

Russell Anglin

By Russell Anglin

Quay County Sun

The Quay County Extension Service’s 43rd Annual Agriculture and Home Economics Seminar brought area experts out to the Tucumcari Convention Center to address food safety and disease prevention Thursday.

New Mexico State University Extension Specialist Del Jimenez addressed a crowd of about 35 people. He talked about the importance of safe food preparation and transport methods for small farmers, and emphasized the need for farm managers to stress sanitary work practices to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses.

Massive outbreaks of foodborne pathogens like salmonella and E. coli bacteria more commonly originate in the U.S., Jimenez said.

“75 percent of all outbreaks occur in the U.S. Imports is only about 7.5 percent,” Jimenez said, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that measured outbreaks from 1990 to 1998. “As we travel and see the farms and ranches in foreign countries, we notice that the regulations they have for exporting food into the U.S. are a lot more stringent than what we have here in our borders.”

According to the CDC website, roughly 48 million Americans get sick every year from foodborne illnesses. Of those 48 million, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die. Jimenez said food contamination is more devastating to small farm operations than large operations that have more money and better legal resources.

Jimenez also stressed the importance of using clean water for farm operations.

“When we talk about water here in New Mexico, most of our water either comes from wells or it comes from some type of river, the Pecos River or Rio Grande. As seasons change from season to season, so does the water quality in these rivers, lakes and wells. You, as a producer, should be aware of that because it affects the quality of your fruits and your vegetables. Those waters should be tested periodically.”

Jimenez also gave the following tips:

• Use bottled water in spray tanks and use low-volume spray tanks.

• Pick fruits and vegetables when they are dry to avoid waterborne contaminants.

• Keep farm animals away from gardens and fields.

• Clean tote bags thoroughly.

• After harvesting, put fruits and vegetables in cold water to avoid shriveling. Make sure the water is clean.

• Regularly inspect and clean farm equipment to avoid fluid leaks and food contamination.

Sonja Koukel, health specialist with New Mexico State University, gave a lecture on influenza outbreaks and emphasized the importance of preventing the disease from spreading.

“If you just stay home for one or two days, you’ll get well faster and all the people at work will be thankful that you didn’t share (the disease) with them,” she said.

Besides staying home when sick, Koukel reminded her audience that hand washing is another good way to keep germs from spreading.

“Did you know that adults are worse at washing their hands than kids? Kids at school get it drilled into their heads all the time. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Nobody’s telling us that, and we need to wash our hands all the time. We can’t get lazy about it.

“As you heard, (hand sanitizer) doesn’t remove dirt from your hands. If you have real soap and water, that’s the best method. If you don’t have water, which sometimes we don’t, then hand sanitizer is the second best thing,” Koukel said.

Koukel gave these tips as well:

• Sneeze into elbows, not hands.

• Wash hands often, and sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while washing hands.

• In public restrooms, use a paper towel to grab the door handle when leaving.

• Replace hand towels after each use.

• Surgical masks can help prevent contamination, particularly for those who work around children or the elderly, who are generally more susceptible to diseases.

• Paper towels are better than hand towels for preventing germs from spreading.

• Keep hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth whenever possible.