March 19, 2020

Key Things WG Members Need to Know About COVID-19

Dear WG Members,

There is a flood of information – and misinformation – pouring in related to SARS CoV 2 (the virus) and COV 19 (the disease). Western Growers has a full team of staff experts sifting and sorting through this information to find what is useful for our grower and handler members, but this is complicated by the rapidly-evolving nature of the outbreak and public response. In these challenging times, please know that our staff is available as a resource for you, and we pledge that if we don’t know the answer to your question or concern, we will work earnestly to find it on your behalf. You can find our staff contact information broken down by subject matter expertise listed below.

Dave Puglia
President & CEO
Western Growers

Here are a few key facts that we believe are foundational and important to understand as we all grapple with how to deal with this pandemic:

  • COV 19 is a respiratory disease and SARS CoV 2 is principally passed between people through airborne droplets (coughing, sneezing). This is why “social distancing” is so important.
  • A secondary route of transmission is touching contaminated surfaces (particularly hard non-porous surfaces) and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Hence increased cleaning, sanitation and handwashing.
  • This not a food safety issue as there is NO evidence SARS CoV 2 is a foodborne pathogen. There is NO scientific research to suggest food is a vehicle for transmission and food packaging (since it is mostly porous) is not thought to be a primary method of transmission. An ill worker within a food system will not prompt a recall of food according to FDA in a stakeholder call on 3/18. 
  • The food industry (including growing, harvesting, packing, processing, shipping, etc. of fresh produce) is deemed part of “critical infrastructure” under federal law.  Many states and counties have also declared agriculture a part of their critical infrastructure. This means healthy workers who perform “critical” work are exempt from “shelter in place,” “lockdown” or other restrictions on moving to and from their jobs. 

What should growers and handlers be doing?

  • Since the key risk is to the workforce and a disruption of business, WG members should be thinking about how to safeguard their workforce. This likely starts with education for each employee about how they can best protect themselves. WG recommends intensified tailgate sessions to continue to drive home the importance of social distancing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, vulnerable populations and handwashing amongst employees. When running tailgates, try to break employees into smaller groups and provide separation.
  • Social distancing is difficult or perhaps impossible in certain settings such as harvesting, transport (of workers) and housing, but it remains our best defense. Do what you can! Space employees on buses, clean and sanitize frequent touch points, close common areas or implement use by shifts in housing environments, etc.
  • Ensure employees understand the importance of coughing and sneezing etiquette.  A training/education issue, but also ensure there are plenty of single use tissues, alcohol-based hand wipes or solutions and other sanitary supplies available.
  • Monitor the health of your workforce. Where an employer has a reasonable belief that an employee has been exposed to SARS CoV 2 the employer can send the employee home. Employers may send home employees with visible symptoms (e.g., coughing). In doing so employers should consider what types of leave benefits might be available for employees who are sent home and that employees who report to work and are sent home may be entitled to reporting time pay.
  • The CDC is recommending that employers take daily temperatures in specified counties experiencing widespread community transmission, including Santa Clara County. Taking temperatures and asking questions about employees’ medical conditions may implicate the ADA and FEHA.
  • If a worker becomes ill: Do NOT let them return to work and house them separately from other workers. Closely monitor worker health. Immediately conduct cleaning and sanitation of frequent contact surfaces and common areas.
  • Because transfer from surfaces is a secondary route of transmission: Intensify cleaning and sanitizing of everything that workers may come into contact with pay particular attention to frequently touched surfaces like door handles. You may also wish to provide alcohol based hand wipes or solutions for employee personal use.


This is “transition” time, which has historically proven to be a time of system vulnerability to foodborne illness – click here to access a list of recommendations WG has developed for leafy green growers that apply to many other crops. While SARS CoV 2 is not a foodborne pathogen, the industry should remain keenly focused on food safety to ensure we don’t compound a pandemic with an outbreak of E. coli or other foodborne pathogen.

Check the Western Growers website often for additional and updated Coronavirus resources.


Legal and HR

Karen Timmins, SVP, Human Resources – [email protected] / 949-885-2295

Jason Resnick, VP/General Counsel – [email protected] / 949-885-2253

Food Safety

Hank Giclas, SVP, Science & Technology – [email protected] / 949-885-2205

Sonia Salas, AVP, Science & Technology – [email protected] / 949-885-2251

Government Affairs

Dennis Nuxoll, VP, Federal Government Affairs – [email protected] / 202-296-0191 x7303

Matthew Allen, Director, State Government Affairs – [email protected] / 916-446-1435

Gail Delihant, Director, State Government Affairs – [email protected] / 916-446-1435

Health Benefits/Insurance Services

David Zanze, EVP, WGAT – [email protected] / 949-885-2209

Jeff Gullickson, SVP, WGIS – [email protected] / 949-885-2351

Trade Practices

Bryan Nickerson, Manager, Trade Practices – [email protected] / 949-885-2392


Cory Lunde, Director, Communications – [email protected] / 949-885-2264