Saturday, 21 March 2009

Food safety at home

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

There is plenty of food safety issues that have been in the news lately, so I won't go into all that, but I do want to share how we handle food safety on our farmstead and in our kitchen. My husband has a compromised immune system so good habits are important.

We raise most of our food, and maintain our own watershed, so we are the "they" that has to keep things safe for ourselves. We consume raw dairy products, drink spring water, eat foodstuffs prepared with raw eggs, and graze in the garden freely. All are things that are frowned upon in modern day society. And, unfortunately modern day industrial food practices can be unsafe, even with all the laws and procedures that must be followed. First, everyone has to be on board, when productivity is the only factor, quality may go down. After all, if the milk is contaminated, it can be pasteurized right? Well, I suppose, if you want a simple answer to a complicated question. The milker will never see the person who drinks the milk, and neither will the farmer. But on a smallholding, the farmer and consumer are one and the same.

On our farm we follow rules I learned as child and I am passing on to my child, and anyone who works with us. It begins at the beginning, of course. A hen's goal in life is to lay an egg that will hatch into chick, for that to happen, she needs clean surroundings, and a clean place to lay her gift. If left to her own devices, she would seek out the safest, cleanest place she could for her nest. If I confine her for her safety, or for my convenience, I must provide her with good food, clean feeders and waterers and a clean nest box to lay her eggs in.

It would do me no good to deny the hen these simple things, because ultimately I need to keep my own "chick" safe. Gathering eggs can be fun or drudgery and it can be dangerous if the nest boxes aren't kept clean. When I gather eggs, I am gathering eggs, I don't stop and pick a salad for dinner on the way back to the house. I put the eggs away, wash up and then go back out and pick greens. Mostly it is just a little thinking, and a lot of hand washing on my part. But, after awhile it becomes habit. The same with milking, when I go to milk, I do not stop and pet the barn cats or let them in the milk bucket, I do my milk chores and get the milk to the house to process it as soon as I'm done milking. Stall cleaning, and general barn chores are a different ball of wax.

Ditto with the feed and water, it must be kept clean to keep the stock healthy and the stock handlers healthy too. It is also a good idea to not let your chickens roost on your hay or water troughs that your ruminants use. However, it is OK for your chickens to scratch through manure, just not the other way around. Birds follow herbivores.

We follow the same principles in the barn. Pitchforks for the hay are only used for hay or spreading clean bedding. Never for mucking out stalls. Think of these pitchforks as the utensils for the stock, they must be kept clean. We always have them stored in a bale of straw or hay, never on the ground. Parasites can be spread by using a manure fork for a hay fork.

Pitchforks and shovels for mucking out are never near the hay, and can be stored touching the ground. If someone new is helping us out, we make sure we go over these simple rules and explain the differences in the tools, and the how's and why's of using these tools.

The same goes for our wheelbarrows. We have separate wheelbarrows for mucking and wheelbarrows that are just used for bringing in vegetables from the garden. The uses are not interchangeable.

This is the food wheelbarrow pictured with the spading fork. Everyone knows not to just grab the nearest wheelbarrow or fork to do a job.

Since we do use composted animal manure/bedding for our fertilizer program, we follow the same guidelines while spreading compost.

Our compost is aged at least a year, and if spread by hand we use our manure forks and wheelbarrows. Spreading fresh manure is usually not recommended, but if you do use it, plan for at least 90 days from application to harvest of edible crops.

Most of all, keeping things clean in the first place is the easiest. But if you want to wash your vegetables, food grade hydrogen peroxide is easy to use. In some areas you can purchase a 3% solution or if not, you can mix it yourself. I purchase 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide from Azure Standard and keep it on hand, mostly for washing salad greens. To make a 3% solution from 35% hydrogen peroxide, mix 1 ounce of hydrogen peroxide to 11 ounces of water. Use 1/4 cup of this dilution to a sink full of water to wash your vegetables in.

Most of all we want to enjoy the fruits of our labors and working together. By setting a few rules that we can all follow, we can enjoy our work and the rewards it brings us!