Assessment of Farmers Market Practices and Characteristics to Inform the Development of Tailored Educational Materials

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Virginia Tech


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.



Farmers markets, food safety, COVID-19, cleaning, disinfecting, web accessibility, literacy level, readability