A survey of small farmers in Texas, focusing on food safety protocols and resources, has revealed significant gaps in these, increasing the risk of product contamination and foodborne illness. According to the study led by the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, very few small growers -most of whom are not required to follow federal food safety guidelines- have previous food safety training,
High-risk practices that can increase the risk of produce contamination include using raw manure or a combination of manure and soil amendments, allowing livestock to freely roam the farm, not providing handwashing or toilet facilities near the farm or packing area, and using dirty tools and equipment. About 46% of all foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States are caused by produce.
Seventy small farmers were surveyed at a fruits and vegetable conference in Rosenberg, Texas, to assess their knowledge of food safety protocols. The results are published in the Journal of Food Protection.
The researchers' ultimate goal is to develop targeted and specific food safety training materials to help small growers minimize contamination and provide safe and healthy produce to consumers. Small growers typically sell most of their produce at farmers' markets and earn less than $25,000 in annual sales.
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