GEH1204:        How an Agricultural Field Toilet Inspection Program Reduced Food Contamination Risk and Improved Farm Worker Health -

 

Speaker:          John Ramirez, MPA, REHS/RS

 

The Monterey County (CA) Health Department implemented an agricultural field toilet inspection program. Attend this session to hear how this award-winning program decreased the probability of crop contamination, food-borne illness, and economic loss for Monterey County agricultural products all while operating at a zero net cost to the county. This program was awarded the 2011 Gold Medal for Excellence in Environmental Health by the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health in 2011.

 

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Unsanitary or improperly equipped field toilets are one of many sources that can contribute to Escherichia coli contamination of agricultural products. This public health risk can lead to unsafe field worker conditions, food borne illness, and substantial economic impacts to the agricultural industry. In 2005 and 2006, United States Food and Drug Administration investigations of food-borne illnesses linked outbreaks to fresh-cut lettuce and spinach grown in the Salinas Valley, California.  Monterey County Health Department’s Environmental Health Bureau (MCEH) launched an array of potential source mitigations, one of which was an Agricultural Field Toilet Inspection Program (AFTIP) to register, monitor, and enforce sanitary practices.

 

From project launch in late 2007 to the December 31 2009, MCEH inspectors permitted more than 7,500 field toilet units, estimated to likely be nearly all of the units that existed in Monterey County. From the first fully-operational program year (2008) to the second program year (2009), total violations decreased from 1,502 to 315 and of those, the number of violations requiring immediate correction decreased from 244 to 8. These results suggest a decreased probability of crop contamination, food-borne illness, and economic loss for Monterey County agricultural products due to field toilet sources.  

 

The study describes MCEH’s rigorously-maintained process to adhere to public health regulations and standards with relatively minor impact on resources, and provides a local health policy, procedures, and materials (forms, tools) to assist other counties in enacting similar policies and cost effective programs. Adoptions of similar practices by other local health departments throughout the U.S. are expected to provide similar results and benefits within those counties. However, because agricultural workers and farming equipment (machinery, trucks, tools, toilet units, etc.) are seasonally transported across county and state boundaries, possibilities of contamination will exist due to differentials in inspections and regulations between counties. Yet implementing AFTIP in California counties would give researchers the opportunity to compare findings, thereby providing further recommendations for greater protections.