University of Maryland Extension seeks produce farms to beta test new food safety training materials

Image Credit: Image by Anh Ngô Hoàng from Pixabay

June 25, 2024
By Laura Wormuth

Foodborne illnesses are a concern for all Americans, causing sickness, loss of productivity, and loss of income – both for consumers and businesses. But safety measures can be put in place to help protect the food supply from potential cross-contamination due to mishandling during harvest, packing, and transport of fresh produce.

“The link to food safety starts with workers. The workers are the greatest risk to food safety on a farm,” says University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) Extension legal specialist Nicole Cook. “No farmer wants to sell food that makes people sick so, required or not, most farms have as many precautions and practices in place to reduce that risk as much as possible.”

The most effective practice for farms is employee training of proper food safety and handling procedures. To assist owners and managers in providing better training, University of Maryland Extension (UME) senior agent and affiliate to the Department of Nutrition & Food Science, Dr. Shauna Henley is working with UMES, New Mexico State University, and The Acheson Group (TAG), to create a new, more adaptable training program for small and medium farms. 

The “Produce TRAINer” program was developed specifically to strengthen food safety culture on small farms, and reinforce worker training –  a requirement under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule which prioritizes preventive tactics and preemptive safety measures.

The Produce TRAINer – or “Targeted Resources Addressing Identified Needs” in worker training and food safety culture in Maryland – is a fully adaptable, mixed media toolkit for training farm employees on proper food handling and focusing on the top food safety issues on farms: cleaning and sanitizing, personal hygiene, and cross-contamination when working with both animals and fresh produce. 

“There are a lot of training resources out there, but we heard from a lot of growers and owners who said time and money were an issue, and materials weren’t specific enough for their operations,” said Henley. “So we have created these new materials from their feedback, and built in ways for this program to be customizable to a farm’s operations and employees.”

Lessons are provided in a variety of formats to cater to different learning styles, as well as a manual for supervisors to assist in the teaching process. “Everyone learns differently, and we have workers whose first language isn’t necessarily English,” said Cook. “The way we approached creating the tools makes for better learning, especially for adult learners. You’ve got to provide multiple ways for people to access the materials – verbally, visually, and even online.”

The Produce TRAINer program, funded by a USDA-National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant, and greatly supported by the deceased Deanna Baldwin, Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Food Quality Assurance Program Manager. The Food Safety Outreach Program funding aims to open the door to continuous discussion about food safety culture on the farm. Materials include a supervisor’s manual and a worker-informed farm training toolkit, consisting of an introductory video on risk assessment; an interactive worst-case farm scenario, or “eye spy”; a visual, interactive tool, and printable Standard Operating Procedures (or SOPs); and an interactive this-or-that risk assessment through a harvesting day.

The team is now looking to beta test the Produce TRAINer materials on small and medium farms in Maryland to get further feedback from growers. Farmers who implement the new training program during this testing phase will receive the full toolkit and trainer manuals, as well as some fun incentives for participating. 

“The new training program benefits the farm owner, the workers, the supply chain, and ultimately, the public,” said Henley. “Training not only helps reduce risk for the farmer, but also the consumer. People are interested in where their food comes from; hopefully they can also get an appreciation for all of the things growers have to keep their eyes and ears open to, to provide fresh, healthy produce.”

If you are a small- to medium-sized produce grower in Maryland and would like to participate in the beta testing of the new Produce TRAINer program, please contact Shauna Henley at to determine your eligibility. For more information on food safety resources from Farm to Table for Marylanders, go to


Produce TRAINer graphic

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Your farm is in Maryland 
  • You are 18 yrs+ 
  • You are the farm owner, supervisor, or manage food safety worker trainings
  • You grow covered produce that is typically eaten raw (apples, leafy greens, berries, herbs, etc.)
  • You conduct covered activities
  • You allow research teams on your farm

Click here to fill out the eligibility form today!

Enroll Your Farm To:

Have materials printed and mailed

  • Supervisor's Manual
  • Printed Supervisor's Manual
  • Discussion poster
  • SOP cards
  • SOP templates

Enroll to potentially participate in our study to evaluate the educational materials -- compensation will be provided!