On-farm food safety trainings for community supported agriculture, on-farm markets, and agritourism operations

Final report for ONE17-295

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $14,974.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland, Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Paul Goeringer
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, College of Ag and Natural Resources, University of Maryland
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Project Information

Summary:

This project brought experts from the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Agriculture Law Education Initiative, and the University of Maryland, College Park and Extension together to create specialized food safety curriculum tailored to three different types of farm-based food businesses: Community Supported
Agriculture, On-Farm Markets, and Agritourism. These materials were presented at on-farm trainings (during winter 2017) which maximized the ability of the presenters to provide operation-specific information and give Maryland farmers the opportunity to get questions answered for their particular operations. Following the trainings, the materials were disseminated via the ALEI website and through recorded webinars.

Food Safety Risks of an Agritourism Operation at https://vimeo.com/257124500

CSA Food Safety and Recall Readiness https://vimeo.com/255827389

On-Farm Food Safety and Recall Readiness https://vimeo.com/255943125

The goal was to equip farmers with the knowledge they need to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks, reduce health risks and thereby improve the quality of life of Maryland’s agricultural community.

Follow-up surveys to farmer attendees confirmed that 38 farmers gained understanding of food safety standards, improved their ability to identify and prevent food safety risks, and gained understanding of how to prepare for an on-farm recall and 15 of those farmers responded that they changed or adopted a food safety practice.

Project Objectives:

The goal of the project is to improve the quality of life for Maryland’s farmers by reducing the likelihood of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with agriculture. The project will create operation-specific food safety training materials that will be presented to Maryland farmers in the best possible setting: on the farm itself. An operation’s best defense against being the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak is having both a food safety plan customized to their operation and having staff trained and prepared to implement the plan’s procedures. This advance preparation is also a legal requirement for farmers subject to FSMA.

To accomplish this goal, the project will bring Maryland’s food safety experts onto the farm to provide farmers and their staff with food safety education customized for their specific operation (Community Supported Agriculture, On-Farm Market, or Agritourism). Having the experts on-site will allow farm operators and their staff to get answers tailored to their specific operations. The objective is to determine if providing Maryland farmers with customized on-farm food safety trainings will improve food safety planning and compliance with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, and reduce the likelihood of foodborne illness outbreaks.

Introduction:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Learning and implementing preventive food safety measures is a farmer’s best defense against being the source of a foodborne illness outbreak. However, it can be challenging for farmers to learn and apply food safety methodologies, because “one size fits all” food safety trainings do not account for the variations of different types of operations. Despite the varying risks associated with diverse operations, Maryland Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) trainings are only offered in two formats: basic and advanced. According to the 2015 University of Maryland Extension Eastern Shore Agricultural Needs Assessment, farmers in the 9 counties on Maryland’s eastern shore, ranked GAP and Good Handling Practice compliance as the top research and education need. This is clear evidence that Maryland farmers desire more food safety education than is currently being offered. Further, as an educator at these trainings, I can attest that farmers often ask the following question in varying forms: “I have an (XYZ) operation. How does the general standard apply to my farm?” This is clear anecdotal evidence that farmers desire more narrowly tailored trainings with demonstrative examples that can be more easily understood and applied to their type of operation. Trainings to teach farmers about the far reaching new requirements of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule will begin in early 2017 and will be administered separately from the Maryland GAP trainings, adding another layer of complexity for Maryland farmers. Lastly, teaching farmers what to do in the event of food safety emergency is vital. Therefore, creating operation specific curriculum that includes some recall planning, Maryland GAP and FSMA standards will provide farmers with the information they need to adopt and implement practices to prevent and effectively react to foodborne illness outbreaks.

Testimonials:

I recently worked with [unnamed grocer] in preparing a Recall Readiness Program that would be acceptable to them and after attending your seminar and thoroughly reviewing the Recall Readiness Plan Template prepared by your team, I realized our Recall Plan needs to be updated/replaced. The Recall Plan prepared by your team is clear, concise and organized in a truly efficient manner, which allows the Farm/Food Farm Safety Manager to clearly understand not only the goal of a Recall Plan but the resources/team available to them, the documentation that should be maintained, and the necessary steps to take in the unfortunate event that a recall needs to be implemented. – Workshop attendee.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

Paul Goeringer and Sarah Everhart worked the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland Extension (collectively the “collaborators”) to review existing food safety training materials and pull from those materials the standards and/or methodologies that can used in the operation-specific curriculum materials. Completed during February- September 2017.

Everhart worked with collaborators and partner farms to schedule trainings and form training agendas. Completed during May-June 2017.

Everhart, in consultation with Michael Pappas, performed research to supplement existing food safety training materials to ensure that the curriculum contains the most up-to-date standards, recommendations and methodologies to plan for and address food safety risks. Completed during March-September 2017.

Everhart created draft curriculum materials for the operation specific food safety risk and recall readiness portions of the trainings and worked with collaborators on their training materials. Completed during February-September 2017.

Everhart made visits to the partnering farmers, discussed topics to be covered at the trainings and inquired as to how the trainings can be enhanced by using demonstrative examples from the host farm sites. Completed during September, 2017.

Pappas reviewed the curriculum materials and offered suggestions to Everhart. Completed during October, 2017.

Everhart and Goeringer created evaluations for distribution following the trainings and webinars to gauge the quality and effectiveness of the trainings. Completed during November, 2017. Work SARE Webinar Evaluation SARE Workshop Evaluation

Research results and discussion:

As a result of this programming, we saw a number of changes by attendees based on the experience through the on-farm trainings.  With the six month followup we saw attendees make the following improvements:

  • Improved hand washing stations
  • Improved workplace sanitation
  • Improved harvest tool cleaning procedures
  • Focusing on avoiding cross contamination
  • Protocols have been established and sanitation occurs more often
  • Posted signs
  • Temperature sensors remotely monitor cooler
  • Replaced light bulbs
  • Researched food safe storage shelves
  • Made sure that food is only prepped on stainless steel surfaces
  • Made sure that employees are not eating food in the food prep area
  • Instituted a more consistent use of gloves and adherence to hand washing policies

At the same time, we saw attendees update food safety plans, develop recall plans, and other practices that will help better prepare them to limit food safety issues down the road.

One limitation to our followup evaluations is that we did not take into account changes in profits or costs associated with our programming.  This type of information would have been valuable if collected to better help us access the benefits of the programming.

Research conclusions:

Creating food safety education programming specific to the type of operation was unanimously appealing to farmers and helped them to better understand learn the materials. Although it was daunting to hold food safety education on farms in January, the farmers responded well to the on-farm location and appreciated the hands-on demonstrations. we would like to explore other opportunities to hold food safety trainings on farms.

Having the farmer hosts discuss their farms and approaches to food safety was a good way to open the meetings and it lead to helpful dialogue throughout the trainings. By bringing regulatory and academic experts together the participants were able to gain a full understanding of not just food safety practices but also how an on-farm recall process would unfold.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

20 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
03 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

44 Farmers
29 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

Everhart and Goeringer worked with University of Maryland communication staff and collaborators, to promote and market the food safety trainings, including but not limited to printed, email and social media marketing. Completed during September-December 2017. Ad for Workshops

To date, we have done no educational programming.  Programming will take place in January of 2018 with 3 workshops planned.  A webinar series has been scheduled for Feb. 2018.

Currently, 2 Extension publications have been published that will be utilized in this trainings. A Guide to Drafting A Model Recall Plan for Maryland Produce Growers and Model Recall Plan both by Sarah Everhart and Ashley Ellixson. Guide to Drafting Model Recall Plan and Model Recall Plan

The partnering farmers hosted the on-farm food safety trainings at their farms.  Everhart presented at all on-farm food safety trainings along with the collaborators. Completed during January, 2018.

Everhart hosted webinars using the curriculum materials prepared for the workshops for operators who could not attend the trainings.  Completed February, 2018.

Following the webinars, Everhart and Goeringer disseminated the materials via the ALEI website. Initiated on March 1, 2018 and ongoing.

Everhart and Goeringer disseminated a survey 6 months following the workshops/webinars to participants. Completed during July-September, 2018.

Everhart and Goeringer analyzed the results of the surveys to discern whether the trainings lead to an improved understanding of food safety standards and implementation of recommended preventive methodologies. September-October, 2018.  On-farm training evaluation and six month follow up evaluation are located here.  Webinar evaluation and six-month follow up evaluation is located here.

Attendees listen to a recall presentation from D’Ann Williams, Maryland Department of Health at agritourism on-farm food safety and recall readiness training, January 25, 2018.

Attendees watch a demonstration of how to reduce food safety risks when preparing produce samples at the On-Farm Market food safety and recall readiness training, Butler’s Orchard, January 19, 2018.
Attendees listening to host farmer, Vic Priapi, discuss his food safety procedures at the CSA on-farm food safety and recall readiness training, January 10, 2018.
Farmers attending the CSA on-farm food safety and recall readiness workshop at Priapi Gardens, Cecilton, Maryland, January 10, 2018.

 

Learning Outcomes

38 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

According to the evaluations completed by attendees immediately following the workshops and webinars, 22 “strongly agreed” and 16 “agreed” the workshops and webinars improved their understanding of the food safety standards applicable to their operations.

Further, 25 farmer attendees said, because of the workshop/webinar, they planned to identify food safety risks and prevent food safety risks on their farm in the next six months.

When asked how they planned to identify and prevent food safety risks, attendees listed the following:

Implement water/soil/surface testing

Use available audit services

Sterilizing equipment

Checking for animal feces

Tighten up potentials for contamination

Use GAP to assess risks

Develop a recall plan

Evaluate farm practices

Appreciate the legal aspects

Areas of cross-contamination- foot traffic

Cleaning Tools, Testing Water
Train employees and family on policies I learned today

Setting up mushroom business from scratch based on GAP as well as orchard

Sanitizing/cleaning produce, improving handwashing, improving cleaning practices

The food safety plan, customer reporting illness tracking log, in house audits to ensure processes are being followed, better record keeping

More record keeping, signage, training

Take a fresh look at produce handling and worker procedures

Use your materials provided and start with #1 and continue until in compliance

Review cooler, washing boxes, train employees

In the baking area making sure that my workers are educated on handwashing, gloves and aprons, as well as cross contamination

Increased training for all management and key staff, coupled with re-evaluation of all steps in delivery and storage of produce that might leave openings to contamination/spoilage

Write food safety plan and implement it

Project Outcomes

15 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Project outcomes:

Six months following the workshops/webinars, 5 farmers reported that they “strongly agreed” and 10 farmers reported they “agreed” as a result of the workshop they had improved the overall food safety on their farm.

Examples of steps farmers had taken to improve food safety include:

Improved hand washing stations

Improved workplace sanitation

Improved harvest tool cleaning procedures

Focusing on avoiding cross contamination

Protocols have been established and sanitation occurs more often

Posted signs

Temperature sensors remotely monitor cooler

Replaced light bulbs

Researched food safe storage shelves

Made sure that food is only prepped on stainless steel surfaces

Made sure that employees are not eating food in the food prep area

Instituted a more consistent use of gloves and adherence to hand washing policies

 

4 farmer respondents indicated they “strongly agreed” and 6 indicated they “agreed”, as a result of the recall readiness planning learned during the workshops/webinars, they had taken actions to be more prepared to respond to an on-farm recall.

 

Steps farmers reported have taken to be prepared to respond to an on-farm recall include:

Developed a recall plan

Created customer list

Created a numbering system for harvest to help with traceback

Updated the Recall Readiness Section of my on Farm Food Safety plan

 

3 farmer respondents indicated they “strongly agreed” and 9 indicated they “agreed” the fact that the workshop/webinar and the materials were customized to my type of operation made it easier for them to apply the standards to my farm.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Creating food safety education programming specific to the type of operation was unanimously appealing to farmers and helped them to better understand learn the materials. Although it was daunting to hold food safety education on farms in January, the farmers responded well to the on-farm location and appreciated the hands-on demonstrations. we would like to explore other opportunities to hold food safety trainings on farms.

Having the farmer hosts discuss their farms and approaches to food safety was a good way to open the meetings and it lead to helpful dialogue throughout the trainings. By bringing regulatory and academic experts together the participants were able to gain a full understanding of not just food safety practices but also how an on-farm recall process would unfold.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn how many people had downloaded the materials in the year since the workshops were held. It was well worth posting the materials and having them available for future download. In the future, we will continue to post educational materials on our website following trainings.

Presenting the material in a webinar format was not as appealing or successful as the in-person trainings.  Based on the results of the webinars, we will continue to focus on in-person food safety trainings instead of attempting webinars.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.