Discovering gaps in food safety practices of small Texas farms

December 15, 2020

A survey of small farmers in Texas identifies a significant gap in food safety protocols and resources, increasing the risk of produce contamination and foodborne illness. Very few small growers - most of whom are not required to follow federal food safety guidelines - have previous food safety training, according to the study led by the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

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.

Even though more than 51% of survey participants said their workers use bare hands for harvesting, 39% of growers do not provide handwashing facilities, and 46% of growers do not provide toilet facilities. Providing handwashing and portable toilet facilities should be the growers' priority, according to lead study author Zahra Mohammad, as they play a key role in preventing cross-contamination and reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

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.

"There are definite gaps in their food safety knowledge, so it's critical that we reach these small growers with robust education to make them aware of the risks associated with these practices, as well as safer alternatives," said Mohammad, a post-doctoral fellow at UH.

More than 34% of growers use manure and 51% have domestic animals on the farm. The use of animal manure presents a risk of produce contamination with pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, while farm animals introduces a risk of fecal contamination of produce, the researchers wrote.

Other key findings include:Large and medium-sized farms are required to follow the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) which sets standards for every stage of produce production, including standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce for human consumption. Most small farmers, including those surveyed for the study, are not required to comply with all FSMA rules.

"These growers are often overlooked with resources, so we need to reach them. Instead of dealing with a foodborne illness after the fact, we're trying to prevent it," said Sujata Sirsat, an assistant professor at the Hilton College, who acknowledges that few produce safety outbreaks are associated with farmers markets, noting that it's unclear if less contamination happens at the markets or they are just harder to trace.

"Stopping foodborne illness at the farm is the key, and that's why this study is important. If you have pathogens internalized into the produce, it doesn't matter if you wash, rinse and sanitize once you get it home. It may be too late," she added.
The study was funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Texas Department of Agriculture. Other study authors include Isabelle do Prado, UH undergraduate student; and Rene Nieto and Richard De Los Santos with the Texas Department of Agriculture.

University of Houston

Related Manure Articles from Brightsurf:

Glyphosate residue in manure fertilizer decrease strawberry and meadow fescue growth
A new study finds that glyphosate residue from herbicides in manure fertilizer decrease the growth of strawberry and meadow fescue as well as runner production of strawberry.

Researchers find multiple effects on soil from manure from cows administered antibiotics
A new study found multiple effects on soils from exposure to manure from cows administered antibiotics, including alteration of the soil microbiome and ecosystem functions, soil respiration and elemental cycling.

Why researchers are mapping the world's manure
Farmers rely on phosphorus fertilizers to enrich the soil and ensure bountiful harvests, but the world's recoverable reserves of phosphate rocks, from which such fertilizers are produced, are finite and unevenly distributed.

Manure application changes with winter crop can cut nitrogen loss, boost profits
Dairy farmers in the Northeast can improve water quality and boost the profitability of their operations by changing the timing and method of applying manure to their fields in the fall, along with planting rye as a cover crop between corn crops -- or by double-cropping rye and corn, according to Penn State researchers.

Cornell model helps dairy farms reduce nitrogen, save money
The Chesapeake Bay -- about 235 miles down the Susquehanna River from New York's Southern Tier -- and other waterways might grow cleaner, thanks to new updates and improvements in a Cornell dairy nutrition model.

Manure injection offers hope, challenge for restoring Chesapeake water quality
Widespread adoption by dairy farmers of injecting manure into the soil instead of spreading it on the surface could be crucial to restoring Chesapeake Bay water quality, according to researchers who compared phosphorus runoff from fields treated by both methods.

Farm manure boosts greenhouse gas emissions -- even in winter
Researchers have shown, for the first time, that manure used to fertilize croplands in spring and summer can dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions in winter.

Fertilizers' impact on soil health compared
In a newly published study, researchers dug into how fertilizing with manure affects soil quality, compared with inorganic fertilizer.

Conservation dairy farming could help Pa. meet Chesapeake target
If the majority of dairy farms in Pennsylvania fully adopt conservation best-management practices, the state may be able to achieve its total maximum daily load water-quality target for the Chesapeake Bay, according to researchers.

Manure slipping through (soil) cracks
A new study shows water infiltrates deeper into cracking clay when liquid hog manure is applied.

Read More: Manure News and Manure Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to