What Cherry Producers Are Doing to Protect Workers
California cherry growers, packers and shippers are doing everything possible to protect workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Vaccinations. The safeguards listed below were quickly implemented throughout the California cherry industry last year when the pandemic first hit. Most of these measures are still in place. In addition, cherry producers are working to ensure workers who want to receive vaccines can easily do so. COVID testing programs are also available at many cherry companies for workers and their families. In San Joaquin County, where the majority of California cherries are grown, a coalition of cherry packers has been working cooperatively with the San Joaquin County Health Department to hold vaccination events at their facilities. You can learn more about this effort here.
Harvest. It’s fairly easy to implement social distancing during harvest since pickers are outside and work one-to-a-tree. Cherry trees are planted with ample spacing that allows workers to easily stay six feet from each other or more. Additional adjustments are being made to allow harvest crews to continue social distancing during breaks and as they load trailers with fruit and move them out of the field. More handwashing facilities are being provided, buckets and ladders are being sanitized and care is being taken to ensure workers are using water containers safely.
Packing. Packing cherries involves teams who work together to grade, size, sort, pack and load the millions of boxes of cherries that will harvest in a short time-frame spanning about six weeks. Cherry packers are working to protect employees using a variety of methods. For example, workers participate in daily safety meetings, equipment is being sanitized frequently, additional handwashing is required, non-employees are not allowed in facilities or offices and employees are being regularly checked for signs of illness.
Packers are slowing down sorting lines so they can operate with fewer people per shift and workers can be spaced farther apart or they are putting in plexiglass shields to provide barriers between workers. Packers are also providing enhanced paid sick leave policies to discourage employees from coming to work if they are ill.
Food Safety. As always, food safety practices are in place in California cherry orchards and packing facilities. Fruit is run through sanitized water systems before being packaged for sale.
Health experts and government regulators have been very clear COVID-19 is not spread through food. Consumers may feel more comfortable purchasing cherries that are sold in bags or clamshell packages. Cherries purchased from bulk displays are also safe. As always, you should thoroughly wash cherries with cold running water before eating. Do not use soap, detergents or other sprays.
Health and Nutrition Tips
Cherries are known for many health benefits and, in fact a recent study by University of South Carolina and Clemson University found that a compound called quercetin in cherries may help fight off infection and viruses. Learn more about healthy California cherries here.
Recipes and Inspiration
Everyone seems to be baking while we shelter-in-place!! And what could be better than a scrumptious cherry pie? It can be a bit time-consuming to pit cherries, but it’s a great activity to involve the kids. Plus we have a quick recipe that will make the project as easy as pie! Get the recipe here. Then check out more delicious recipes featuring California cherries here.