Improvement of the safety of food handling practices on small farms
In the past year we have participated in 2 GAP workshops in cooperation with the SC Department of Agriculture to deliver food safety information to small farmers in South Carolina. We have continued to collect samples of fresh produce being sold at farmers markets within 3 regions of South Carolina (Coastal, Midlands, Upstate). Produce samples were enumerated for total aerobic organisms and coliforms and these data are still being analyzed to determine if there are regional, seasonal or product effects in bacterial levels. A consumer and farmer survey was to determine consumer expectations and misconception about locally grown produce and producers beliefs on how to market their product. Results show that consumer priority for purchasing produce rank “locally grown” over “organic.”
The goal of this project is to identify risk factors for food safety in the processing of specialty crops on small farms and to develop more effective and targeted interventions for foodborne illness prevention. We propose four objectives to accomplish this goal: 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.
We have completed data collection of produce samples from farmers markets located in different parts of South Carolina. A survey tool has been developed to determine consumer perceptions of locally-grown produce and this survey has been tested on students and staff at the university. A survey for small farmers has also been developed and the university internal review board has approved all surveys for human subjects. Members of the SARE project team have given presentations at four GAPs training workshops in cooperation with the SC Department of Agriculture. A consumer survey was completed to assess perceptions of fresh product grown locally and using organic standards.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The proposed research will 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. Furthermore, determination of consumer perceptions and preferences for produce will assist small farmers in developing successful marketing plans.