'Every farm is different:' New inspections on Wisconsin farms to help protect public health

MADISON — Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million people in the United States fall ill from foodborne illness. New farm inspections in Wisconsin are aimed at protecting public health.

Starting in summer 2019 in Wisconsin, farmers are submitting their crops for new food safety inspections.

"Every farm is different, and they're so diverse," said Shawn Bartholomew, DATCP food safety supervisor.

The inspections are part of the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule. The ultimate goal is to protect public health.

"Pretty obvious things, and most growers are already compliant with the rule," Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew said inspectors will be looking for bird droppings and animal feces. In addition, they'll ensure that growers are wearing clean clothes and practicing good hygiene.

"They washed their hands after using the restroom, after eating, after smoking," Bartholomew said.

"You don't want someone to take care of cows in the morning and then go pick produce that afternoon. There's just too great a risk of cross contamination," explained Mike Mosher, DATCP compliance specialist for produce safety.

Inspectors are also looking for hand washing facilities, and checking tools and wash racks for contamination.

Mosher said Wisconsin already has a good reputation for food safety.

Inspections began on large Wisconsin farms in summer 2019. All farms will be inspected in 2021.

As a consumer, you can help avoid foodborne illnesses too, by limiting how much you handle produce at the farmers market or grocery store.