Last March, ALEI Senior Legal Specialist Sarah Everhart traveled to McHenry, Md. to provide a Produce Safety Rule (PSR) training with the other members of the Maryland Food Safety Network. The onset of COVID-19 began shortly thereafter. Everhart and the other educators soon realized it would be the last in-person education they would be able to offer Maryland farmers until the COVID-19 pandemic resolved. Although, the global pandemic required food safety education to be presented in new virtual formats, ALEI legal specialists were able to quickly adapt and continue reaching farmers to give them the information and resources they need to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
How To: PSR Webinar Series
The ALEI legal specialists who are a part of the Maryland Food Safety Network took note of survey feedback from farmers who attended PSR trainings, asking for practical tips on how to successfully implement the PSR and translate the recommended food safety methodologies into everyday steps on the farm. To address this need, the Maryland Food Safety Network created and hosted monthly webinars from May through November 2020 to provide growers with examples, pictures, and suggestions for each of the sections of the PSR.
The subjects covered include:
- How to: Effectively and Efficiently Train Your Workers
- How to: Make Water Risk Assessments
- How to: Get A Handle on Water Quality
- How to: Manage Wildlife
- How to: Develop A Sanitation Program
- How to: Apply, Handle and Store Biological Soil Amendments
The final webinar in the series, “How to: Put It All Together in A Food Safety Plan,” details how growers can combine all of their food safety standard operating procedures to form a farm food safety plan. If you missed the webinar series you can still access all of the recorded webinars on the ALEI Food Safety website.
Online Produce Safety Trainings
With guidance from experts at the Produce Safety Alliance, the Maryland Food Safety Network team successfully hosted two virtual, multi-day PSR trainings for Maryland farmers in 2021. The online trainings helped 48 growers complete their food safety training requirements. According to Everhart, “it was a challenge to provide such a dense course in this format, so we reformatted the course from one eight hour day to a two-day training, and incorporated many interactive elements, such as polls, to keep growers engaged throughout the day.” The feedback from growers included gratitude for the availability of the remote training and they enjoyed being able to attend from the comfort of their homes.
Growers who are interested in attending a PSR training online should check out the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) website for upcoming courses. Because the PSR is a federal law, (applied and enforced in Maryland by the Maryland Department of Agriculture) Maryland growers can take a PSA-approved grower training offered in another state to satisfy the legal requirement for attending. Remote delivery opportunities are a temporary option being supported during the COVID-19 outbreak. This policy will be in effect until September 30, 2021, with the potential for extension pending updates on the pandemic, after which the PSA expects to revert to in-person training requirements.
Farmers Market Meetings
ALEI and the Maryland Food Safety Network were excited to create and administer food safety education to a new group of stakeholders this winter: farmers market mangers and vendors. Everhart and Research Assistant Margaret Todd, along with Dr. Angela Ferelli from the University of Maryland Department of Landscape Architecture and Plant Science, presented “Food Safety at the Farmers’ Market” at six virtual meetings hosted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), in partnership with Maryland SNAP-Ed, and the Maryland Market Money Program.
There have been serious foodborne illness outbreaks traced to farmers’ markets throughout the United States. Consumers tend to visit farmers markets and assume fresher also means safer, however contamination from pathogens can happen on any size farm. With the recent surge in demand for locally produced foods, food safety risk reduction strategies at farmers’ markets are increasingly vital to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses.
The goal of this series of food safety education was to help farmers’ market managers identify potential areas of risk and share strategies to reduce or mitigate those risks. The presentation focused on ongoing COVID-19 precautions and providing an overview of federal and state food safety regulations for market managers to help them understand how laws might apply to the vendors at their markets and what licenses and/or certifications vendors must have before selling at market.
Attendees were also told how to register to receive a free portable handwashing station and food safety signage from the MDA. As part of the training, attendees were given a Farmers Market Food Safety Checklist created specifically to help market managers track implementation of food safety practices throughout the market season. Everhart also presented during a farmers’ market webinar specifically for urban farmers markets, covering food safety issues unique to urban farms.
Funding for this series of work described in this article was made possible, in part, by the Food and Drug Administration through grant PAR-16-137. The views expressed in written materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health & Human Services; nor does any mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organization imply endorsement by the United States Government.