The Farmers’ Market Food Safety Program is three-year effort funded by the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture led by Assistant Professor of Food Science at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Kristen Gibson. Co-investigators Dr. Sujata Sirsat, Research Assistant Professor, and Dr. Jay Neal, Assistant Professor at the University of Houston, as well as other research collaborators, assistants, and associates, including the web-based eXtension group Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems, National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the Farmers Market Coalition, are combining efforts with Dr. Gibson to make Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets educational material available nationwide to market consumers, vendors, and managers.
Long Term Goal
The long term goal of the Farmers’ Market Food Safety Program is to enhance food safety practices at farmers’ markets by equipping vendors, market managers and consumers with both scientifically-based and practical behaviors that will reduce the likelihood of foodborne outbreak. The team will develop educational materials and operational tools through the completion of five objectives.
- Objective 1: Conduct surveys and focus groups with farmers’ market vendors and managers to determine current implementation of food safety training materials and to identify best management practices.
- Objective 2: Conduct surveys and focus groups with farmers’ market consumers to identify perceptions of food safety and local produce.
- Objective 3: Determine the most effective vendor booth configuration of farmers markets to prevent cross contamination.
- Objective 4: Develop a dynamic resource to link jurisdiction requirements to be managed by a national farmers market association.
- Objective 5: (This objective has changed.) Develop a market manager food safety kit called “Wholesome & Healthy at the Farmers’ Market” that includes educational materials for consumers and tools for managers to promote food safety.
In the USA, local food markets account for a growing share of agriculture production and with this growth come unique food safety challenges. Even though consumers often perceive local foods as safer and more wholesome, there is no evidence that local food products would be less prone to contamination with foodborne pathogens, especially since local foods generally receive less government oversight both at the federal and local levels. If left unaddressed, the role of local food commodities as vehicles of foodborne pathogens may become more significant. Therefore, food safety training and education that is specific to personnel (i.e. market managers, vendors, farm-to-school buyers) in direct-marketing venues is integral for the protection of public health, specifically consumers of local food commodities.