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$510K USDA Grant to Fund Researchers’ Work Enhancing Food Safety Culture on Farms

By Graham Binder

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $510,000 to researchers at the University of Maryland Extension and partner institutions to train small and medium-sized farms that grow produce in food safety procedures to meet recent federal requirements.

The Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule established minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. But since it went into effect in 2016, it has become clear that some farm managers aren’t implementing produce safety rules for their workers past basic health and hygiene training.

Now, with colleagues at New Mexico State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, extension Agents Shauna Henley and Angela Ferelli have been awarded funds by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help farmers enhance and sustain an operational culture that champions food safety.

They will advance a new Maryland food safety network and create a mixed-media toolkit for supervisors to address confusion about the federal rules and a subsequent “train the trainer” workshop designed to use the toolkit. It will be piloted on farms over the course of a season, and ultimately evaluated for its effectiveness to change worker behavior.

Henley and Ferelli, who are both affiliated with the university’s College of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, said the benefits of food safety rules extend beyond health implications.

“Food safety is good business and will open up new channels and opportunities. If you’re a small farmer and you want to expand and scale up, knowing the regulations will help your business grow,” Ferelli said.

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