- Animal Products: dairy
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: extension, mentoring, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
Problem and justification The enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) places a time and economic burden on very small-scale cheesemakers to develop science-based risk assessments and food safety plans. Very small cheese plants often have only a few employees with many responsibilities so finding time and money for training and to write a risk-based food safety plan can be challenging. Most food safety courses and resources are focused on larger processors and pasteurized products. Training programs focused on artisan cheesemakers are increasing, and there are some food safety resources written specifically for cheesemakers. A 2014 food safety needs assessment of Pennsylvania dairy processors combined with questions asked by artisan cheesemakers in dairy food safety workshops illustrate a clear need for more in-depth resources for conducting science-based risk assessments. Amish cheesemakers do not have easy access to internet resources that can help them with their food safety plans. The Pennsylvania Dairy Plant and Raw Milk Permit Directory lists 119 cheesemakers, of which 66 are making raw milk cheese and 11 of these are Amish. There are about 300 artisan cheesemakers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. Solution and approach Tools tailored to very small raw milk cheesemakers will simplify the process and reduce the time needed to conduct science-based risk assessments and develop preventive controls to comply with new federal regulations. A step-by-step guide for conducting risk assessments in small raw milk cheese plants will be developed in conjunction with raw milk cheesemakers to ensure that it is written in a way that is helpful to them. A raw milk hazard guide will contain scientific references used to justify the handling of hazards in a raw milk cheese plant. Three workshops on “Conducting a Science-based Risk Assessment for Raw Milk Cheesemakers” will be held in various locations in Pennsylvania to provide information, including the above guides, and practice hands-on exercises. The research portion of this project hypothesizes that a better engagement during the risk assessment and preventive controls development will result in long term improvements in sanitation practices and reduced microbial counts in the environment in raw milk cheese plants. Cheesemaker collaborators will participate in pre- and post-study questionnaires and environmental testing of their facility five times over the course of 1 year to validate the effectiveness of the educational tools and assess long term changes in behavior related to food safety.
Performance targets from proposal:
Fifty-five raw milk cheesemakers conduct their own science-based risk assessment and create 2 process controls and 3 sanitation controls as a result of attending the workshop and participating in the research component. The cheesemakers save 20 hours in developing their FDA-required food safety plans by using the resources provided.