Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Food Safety is Crucial to Beginning Farmers

Chris Blanchard, owner of Rock Spring Farm, believes that food safety has to be uppermost in farmers’ minds, particularly those who produce for local or direct markets. It is one of the best ways to protect your livelihood as a farmer because property food safety techniques can lead to higher quality products. It is also imperative for farmers to practice good food safety techniques because each individual farmer is protecting all the farmers who are trying to do direct marketing or marketing their products locally. As Chris explained, commercial spinach growers are still suffering from the impact of a big food safety scare in 2006 when e-coli 0157:H7 sickened hundreds of people in 26 states. Spinach sales have not yet recovered. From Chris’s perspective, all it takes is one sick kid from a farm-to-school program anywhere in the country to destroy farm-to-table programs everywhere.

So what can farmers’ do to minimize the risk of unintentional contamination of their products? Most food safety techniques are really simple according to Chris.

• Install a hand wash station near your washing and packing area. All you have to have is running water, disposable towels and good soap. This can cut down on any cross-contamination between products and any unintentional contamination from workers.

• Keep sick people off the farm – or at least in the farm house. People suffering from gastrointestinal illnesses may not mean to bring the germs on the farm, but they do carry it on clothing and skin.

• Maintain your cold chain. The rate of biological activity doubles with every 10⁰ increase in temperature. Keeping produce at the right temperature and humidity maintains quality as well as protects against pathogen contamination.

• Test your water often. Maintaining water quality for producing or washing products is extremely important because many pathogens can be water-borne. Testing just once a year can miss changes in the environment that can contribute to pathogens in the water (e.g. moving animals around on a nearby farm on a seasonal basis may impact your water source.) Chris recommends quarterly testing of water.

• Shud is not good! This combination of s*#t and mud can be deadly to vegetable and fruit products. Don’t move from livestock operations to vegetable operations on the same farm or neighboring farms without a major clean-up of boots, clothing and skin.

For more information on ways to protect your products from contamination, see Kansas State University’s Food*A*Syst manual that contains checklists of procedures that you can implement on your farm to reduce your risk of food safety contamination.  (by Mary Hendrickson)

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