Extra Precautions but Hopeful Outlook for California Cherry Harvest


Cherry harvest has started in California. “Safety is always our highest priority,” says Chris Zanobini, Executive Director of the California Cherry Board, which represent over 600 cherry growers, packers and shippers throughout the state. “This season we want everyone to know that extra precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the essential workers who bring cherries to people around the world.”

According to Zanobini, California cherry growers are expecting to harvest about 7 million 18-pound boxes this year. “As much as 25 percent of California’s cherry crop is normally exported, but the pandemic is disrupting markets throughout the world,” he says. “California cherry growers will be relying much more on domestic sales this season and we’re thankful for retail distribution channels that are keeping food moving to U.S. consumers.”

Harvest of California cherries started in late April in the southern-most growing areas near Bakersfield and Fresno. Peak production is expected in mid-May when harvest will move to the state’s largest cherry-growing region near Lodi.

“Normally at this time of year, growers are worried about rain, which can cause significant crop losses,” explains Zanobini. “This year growers are focused on making adjustments to their farming and packing operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among workers.”

“All of us cherry packers are working to protect our employees using a variety of methods,” says Erick Stonebarger, General Manager of Chinchiolo Stemilt California. “We’re having daily safety meetings, equipment is being sanitized frequently, additional handwashing is required, non-employees are not allowed in our facilities or offices, we’re regularly checking our workers for signs of illness.”

Stonebarger explains that his operation and many others are slowing down sorting lines so they can operate with fewer people per shift and workers can be spaced farther apart. Some packers are putting plexiglass shields to provide barriers between workers. Packers are also providing enhanced paid sick leave policies to discourage employees from coming to work if they’re ill.

Zanobini emphasizes that, as always, food safety practices are in place in California cherry orchards and packing facilities and that the fruit is run through sanitized water systems before being packaged for sale.

“Cherries are often sold in bags or clamshells and some consumers may feel more comfortable buying packaged cherry products,” says Zanobini. “Shoppers will also see bulk displays of cherries this season in their grocery stores and these are perfectly safe as well. As always, you should thoroughly wash cherries with cold running water before eating. Do not use soap, detergents or other sprays.”

Zanobini emphasizes that cherries have many health benefits and contain compounds that help build your immune system and can prevent illness.

By Fresh Plaza