The American Journal of Public Health recently published a study on the lives of migrant workers. These workers venture to the United States from countries like Mexico and Cuba in search of work to support their families. Many of these workers do not have visas and live like ghosts leaving no trail behind to show that they were here.
They live in camps neat the farms where they work. In about ten percent of the camps where undocumented workers lived there were at least two basic health violations in the kitchens. The violations included things like improper refrigerator cooling which can cause food to spoil, cockroach infestation, and contaminated water. In camps where legal workers live the farms are required to submit to health inspections there were fewer violations.
The health of the people who handle fresh produce that goes into the national food supply should be a top priority. Many diseases, like the norovirus, can survive on surfaces for weeks, so the last thing we want is for any of these workers to contract one of those diseases. The workers could contaminate the food supply if they do not practice good hygiene like proper hand washing. If their water is contaminated to begin with it might be hard for the worker to wash at all.
Most Americans have no idea where the produce in the grocery store comes from. There is no way to know how each produce farmer treats his workers. The best thing a normal person who buys their fresh produce from the store can do is take steps to protect themselves from illness. Probably the best habit a person can get into is to wash their fruits and vegetable before they cook them or eat them. If they are cooking the fresh produce they can be sure to cook them fully and hopefully it will kill any residual bacteria left over from washing the item.
The only way to ensure a safe food supply is for the use of migrant workers to stop or for the practice to be legalized in such a way that it is easier for migrant workers to do their work safely. As long as farms are using workers outside the system then the workers will never have any minimum standards of living. Without a standard these workers can live in conditions that are prime for a disease outbreak and your food is not safe from being exposed to those diseases.
Alternatively, people can grow their own fresh produce when it’s in season or shopping at local farmer’s markets. Most vendors at those markets charge more than regular super markets because they do most of the work themselves. They also tend not to use any type of chemicals on their produce. Most of these vendors are generally happy to give you a farm tour if you want to see exactly where their items come from.
Luckily, there have been very few incidents of where sick workers have contaminated fresh produce by simply touching it. It wouldn’t hurt for the American government to address this issue before it does happen, though.