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Cornell food scientist Elizabeth Bihn

Study on ‘local’ farms offers food safety snapshot

A noted food-safety expert says she’s pleased with how much information about local farms and food safety is contained in a recently released needs assessment survey report, but she also admitted to being surprised at one of the unexpected results that surfaced in the report.

According to the report, some local food producers were confident in their ability to assess food safety risks in their operations, despite more than a third of the participants in the survey indicating that they had not been to any formal food-safety training, such as Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) or a Produce Safety Alliance grower training.

And even though less than half of the respondents said they had attended some type of produce safety training, the majority felt confident in their ability to identify how human pathogens spread (86 percent), how to reduce food safety risks (90 percent) and in their ability to describe the difference between ‘cleaning’ and ‘sanitizing (88 percent).

“This is one of the most perplexing results of the survey,” says the report.

One of the authors of the report, Cornell food scientist Elizabeth Bihn and director of the Produce Safety Alliance, said that some of these growers may have had training that the survey did not capture — or “it could be that growers think it (food safety) is common sense.”

But Bihn doesn’t buy into that line of thinking. “Having worked with growers for more than 20 years, I think that food-safety training is really valuable because I do not think all of this is common sense,” she said. “Growers often comment after training that they were not aware of certain risks or how practices could reduce those risks so training gives them the opportunity to learn about microbial risks present in growing and packing environments.”

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