Assessment of Farmers Market Practices and Characteristics to Inform the Development of Tailored Educational Materials
Duong, Minh Dao
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Farmers markets (FM) have become increasingly popular almost tripling over the past two decades due to the rising interest in local and/or organic foods. Within this same time period, notable farmers market foodborne illness outbreaks; such as E. coli O157:H7 and strawberries and Salmonella and peas; have occurred, and emphasize the importance of food safety practices at farmers markets. Some farmers may be encouraged to follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to limit the contamination of fresh produce; however, GAPs programs are complex and also very driven by wholesale buyers. Furthermore, many FM growers are unfamiliar with GAPs or do not believe it is applicable to them. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in 2011, and shifted the food safety paradigm from a reactive to proactive approach introducing seven different rules including the Preventive Controls for Human Foods (PCHFR) and the Produce Safety Rule (PSR). Each FSMA rule does contain exemptions for smaller-scale operations (e.g., farms, facilities) that allows them to be excluded from the rule, or excluded from certain aspects of the rule. Generally, most FM vendors may satisfy exemptions from the FSMA regulations (e.g., be exempt from the FSMA Produce Safety Rule because of commodities); however, to our knowledge, no studies have assessed the regulatory compliance requirements of FM vendors to the FSMA regulations. This dissertation explored the regulatory requirements of FM vendors, and the accessibility of FSMA materials for these audiences. Additionally, due to the sudden and unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, an objective was added that explored how COVID-19 influenced behavior changes among this audience. Interviews were conducted and found that all vendors (100%) were exempt from the PCHFR and that most vendors (67%) were exempt from the PSR, some were qualified exempt (28%), and a few (5%) were covered. This study also found that farmers market vendors received information mainly from University Cooperative Extension sources. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted hygiene and health practices at FMs. Market personnel (managers and vendors) implemented many different hygiene and health practices at their markets. The major source of COVID-19 food safety information for market personnel was local and federal government; as well as University Cooperative Extension. Accessibility analyses showed that many FM or COVID-19 resources were not accessible due to populations that rely on produce safety resources generated by Cooperative Extension due to (i) navigation or web accessibility errors, (ii) high literacy level requirements, and (iii) lack of keep (i.e., resources were not up-to-date, or continuously managed or monitored). These findings will inform the development of FM targeted resources, that are also, accessible to a more diverse and inclusive audience. One example is a produce safety resource on the updated agricultural water requirements that is developed to an 8th grade reading level, with no broken links or additional navigations errors, and if a PDF version is available, proper headers and titles.
General Audience Abstract
Farmers markets (FMs) have increased in popularity over the two decades with because of interest by consumers to support local agriculture, buy organic products, or because they believe these foods to be safer from bacteria and viruses. Shopping at a FMs does not necessarily make the products any safer compared to buying it from a grocery store. It is important that farmers markets follow proper food safety practices during the growing, harvesting, and preparation of produce for sale. One example is the prevention of animal feces from getting on the produce or in a water source that would be used. Another would be to follow proper hygiene practices such as handwashing after using the bathroom. These two examples and others are detailed in a law passed by President Obama in 2011 called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which allows the Food and Drug Administration to begin its proactive instead of reactive food safety approach. FSMA does not have to be followed by all food entities. Depending on how much a farm makes in revenue (<$25,000) or if they grow products deemed as "not risky,", they may be exempt. These types of products such as potatoes, beets, and corn are safer because they will be cooked before consumption killing any bacteria or viruses that may exist. Other products such as romaine lettuce and tomatoes are usually consumed fresh without cooking and are thus riskier if there are any bacteria or viruses on it. Interviews were conducted to understand if farmers market vendors need to comply with FSMA. Most vendors are not required to follow FSMA because they gross less than $25,000 or their products were already covered by other food safety regulations such as meat being covered by the USDA. Additionally, how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced FMs was explored. Two surveys, one for vendors and one for managers, were distributed to stakeholders. FMs adapted really well to the challenging COVID-19 landscape and implemented COVID-19 preventive measures such as social distancing, mask wearing, and providing hand sanitizer and handwashing stations to continue to operate and keep their customers and employees safe. After understanding the characteristics and the unique challenges to food safety implementation that these market personnel may face, additional research was done to understand if currently available resources were accessible. Accessibility was evaluated using website and PDF accessibility checkers and a readability level checker. Resources should be easy to navigate and written to around a 8th grade level to make it easy to understand. There is a lack of well-crafted, accessible resources that address the unique challenges that farmers market personnel may face. These considerations should be considered when creating these materials.
- Doctoral Dissertations