NOGALES, Ariz. - Fresh fruit and vegetables from Mexico feed more than $3 billion into Arizona’s economy. Now the produce industry is working to make sure COVID-19 doesn’t disable the workers who keep the food moving.
In Nogales, the busiest part of the produce season is about to begin and the industry is working to reduce the chance a COVID outbreak will knock out a large share of the workforce. Lance Jungmeyer of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas says when the peak hits in February an average of 1,500 trucks will bring fresh produce from Mexico per day.
“And those trucks have to come in, pass through CBP, some of them USDA and FDA, and then whatever happens with the warehouse," he said. "A truck route goes back and forth so it's a delicate balance. It's a supply chain ballet, if you would, and just getting it done on a regular basis is a challenge, making sure we can do this safely and continue to feed North America, that’s tough. That's why we're organizing this testing, at the very front end of the season.”
Jungmeyer says there’s no evidence COVID will spread through the produce. The concern is the people. So the produce industry is working with the Mariposa Community Health Center for a free testing blitz for anyone, but especially for produce workers and government produce inspectors. It’s coupled with education on masks, handwashing and other protection so when workers test clear of the virus, they stay clear.
“We're such a tight community down here," Jungmeyer said. "Almost every family probably has somebody who works in fresh produce, and many families have people working in the government, many people have families working in the keela sector and we're so connected. That, that's why we have to make sure that we keep our risk levels down.”
And Jungmeyer says produce warehouses are adjusting work patterns to minimize how close workers come to each other to reduce the chance the virus will spread through this industry that brings in billions of dollars and creates thousands of jobs.