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Produce growers struggle with food safety requirements

Time, money and infrastructure biggest barriers to complying with FMSA requirements, according to Cornell study.

Although local food producers are broadly committed to food safety on their operations, there are still some barriers to implementing food safety best practices, according to a "Needs Assessment Report" released by the National Farmers Union Foundation’s Local Food Safety Collaborative (LFSC) and Cornell University.

The publication is the result of a multiyear, two-tiered effort and includes findings from the "Needs Assessment Survey," which was designed to determine the food safety practices, knowledge, attitudes, barriers and needs of local producers, with a particular focus on food processors and fruit and vegetable growers. Following the completion of the survey, LFSC and Cornell organized a series of listening sessions across the country during which small groups of local food producers had the opportunity to discuss the aforementioned issues in greater detail. The combined results will inform the organizations’ Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) educational outreach in the future.

In general, participants expressed an interest in improving food safety practices on their farms or facilities but perceived many barriers that may prevent them from doing so. Financial resources were the top concern, followed by time and farm infrastructure. More than half of respondents reported that these barriers were either moderately or greatly limiting to their farming operations. Other concerns include the need for skilled labor, technical assistance, appropriate supplies and equipment and knowledge and information.

More specifically, participants expressed the need for greater assistance with the following:

  • Food safety audits – Seven out of 10 participants had not received or were unsure if they had received a third-party audit;
  • Worker training – Four out of 10 participants reported that the food safety training provided to workers was not applicable to their individual operations;
  • Water testing, and
  • Recordkeeping.

When seeking assistance, however, many participants reported that they had trouble finding experienced, competent and trusted trainers. This often negatively affected their ability or motivation to implement food safety practices, underscoring the value of capable, trustworthy and accessible trainers. In addition to high quality technical assistance, a number of participating growers also indicated that financial assistance would help them access educational resources  and implement food safety practices.

Given the role of food safety in the context of public health and farmers’ livelihoods, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has prioritized farmer education through LFSC.

“All farmers understand the importance of food safety on their operations,” NFU president Roger Johnson said. “First and foremost, they want to keep American consumers healthy by protecting them from foodborne illnesses, but they also want access to markets to sell their products, and that often means complying with food safety regulations. This assessment will help us ensure that farmers have access to the resources they need in order to comply with those regulations, which will, in turn, ensure their economic viability and the health of the public at large.”

TAGS: Policy
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