Improvement of the safety of food handling practices on small farms
The overall summary of our project is to: (1) provide food safety education and training for consumers of all ages, including those at increased risk for foodborne illnesses (Food Safety Imitative, Education Component, http://www.foodsafety.gov/~dms/fs-ltr03.html ) and (2) provide food safety education, training, and certification for farmers, industry, legal migrant workers (approved under H-2A program) and retail employees, including small farm direct-food-sales vendors and processors. Moreover, the proposed research would have a significant impact on the agriculture industry of SC because it would address issues related to the 14,000 retail food establishments, 154 food warehouses/distribution centers, and 302 food processing establishments in our state. Over 90% of the facilities (USDA-ERS. 2008. Profile of hired farmworkers, a 2008 update. www.ers.usda.gov/err60. access date, November 5, 2008) mentioned above may be classified as small establishments (<$250,000 annual sales), and either do not know much about food safety and/or cannot afford to implement safe food handling, hygiene and sanitation procedures. The goal of this project is to educate SC consumers, farmers, workers and retail employees on how to reduce, eliminate or prevent microbiological contamination of foods. Fresh produce is $150 million dollar industry for SC annually, and represents more than 28% of SC’s total income to farmers. In addition, these commodities yield over $22 million from export. Based on these figures, SC and the U.S. cannot afford to lose these revenues because of failure to deliver safe products to consumers.
1. To develop a more complete characterization of food handling, hygiene, and sanitation practices that contribute to foodborne illness by conducting observations of harvest and packing practices on small farms in the SE US. 2. To collect and analyze microbiological samples from the hands of farm workers and surfaces (harvest bins, processing belts, produce) at these same farms. 3. To identify foodborne illness risk factors and effective control strategies using the findings from the observations and microbiological testing results. 4. To develop, deliver, evaluate, and disseminate training interventions targeting farm managers based on identified risk factors and control strategies to increase their competency in delivering educational messages to farm workers.
The project has just been initiated and we have identified a highly qualified graduate student to work on the project. We have met for planning and have industry contacts lined up to set up data collection.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Our long term impacts include:
To fill gaps in our current knowledge regarding risk factors for foodborne illness on small farms. We will use findings from the observational and microbiological analysis to develop targeted training interventions. Unlike other educational materials that have been developed, the materials will be targeted to food safety educators so that they are equipped with the required knowledge and competency to deliver messages on food safety to small farmers. Thus, it is expected that small farm workers will exhibit safer practices following educational efforts and thus help reduce the risk for foodborne illness.