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Food Safety and Food Preservation

Issue:  Increased consumer concern about on-farm food handling practices and retailer trace-back requirements.

Since the 1980s, fresh produce has been under increased scrutiny as a source of outbreaks. With the increased emphasis on consuming fruits and vegetable for a healthy diet, it is even more crucial that produce be safe to eat. A long litany of produce has been implicated including lettuce, spinach, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. All of these items are economically important in Delaware.

The economic impact of a foodborne outbreak associated with Delaware grown produce would be overwhelming. Fruit and vegetable production and activities associated with getting the items to market account for about $179 million dollars of industry output, 754 jobs, and $67.5 million in value added activities.

Response:  Deliver Educational Programs Targeting Commercial Fruit and Vegetable Growers

A team of agricultural and family and consumer science educators delivered an educational program targeting commercial fruit and vegetable growers in Delaware. The program was developed to address the increasing concerns over food safety of produce and to help growers meet buyer demands for food safety. Delaware growers attended a two-part voluntary Good Agriculture Practices/Good Handling Practices (GAP/GhP) training. Classes consisted of the rationale behind food safety strategies, tactics for implementing GAPs and GHPs, what an audit would look like, how to implement GAP/GHP, information about on-farm worker training, and developing a food safety plan for the operation.

Impact:  Six-month post and final program surveys were sent to 156 participants who completed training. Of the 70 respondents returning the six-month survey, 90 percent reported being better able to  manage risks as they relate to farm food safety and 95 percent better understand their role in preventing foodborne illness. Over 430 farm workers were trained by operators, 23 mock audits were conducted by operators/consultants, and 18 percent completed a farm safety plan.

In 2011, an additional 58 producers, 20 larger wholesale, and 38 smaller growers participated in 6-hour and 3-hour training sessions, respectively. Two farms had GAP/GHP audits, and assistance was provided in writing three produce food safety plans in 2011.

Issue:  70 Percent of the Foodborne Outbreaks in the United States Can Be Traced to Handling Mistakes in a Food Service Establishment

Each year 48 million Americans experience foodborne illness and 3,000 die as a result of food contaminated with microorganisms. In addition, about 2 to 3 percent develop some type of long-term health problem such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, reactive arthritis, and renal disease. The Centers for Disease Control suggests that 70 percent of the foodborne outbreaks in the US can be traced to some handling mistake in a quantity foodservice establishment. Therefore, food handlers in these operations must be aware that their food handling practices can reduce the risk of developing a foodborne illness

Response:  Food Safety Education for Quantity Food Handlers

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has two programs that target quantity food handlers. The ServSafe® program is the premiere food safety certification offered by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. This program is designed for managers of foodservice operations. Successful completion of the certification exam helps in meeting Delaware Food Code requirements. Dine Safe is designed for quantity food preparers working in a variety of settings, including restaurants, fire halls, churches, and child care centers. They learn skills and strategies required to keep food safe, regardless of their specific job.

Impact:  During the last two years, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has reached over 350 quantity foodservice workers in both the ServSafe® and Dine Safe programs. As a result of the program, 86 percent passed the ServSafe® certification examination. Additionally, participants indicated that they would personally, or have their staff, wash hands more frequently (89%), improve personal hygiene (70%), calibrate thermometers on a regular basis (80%), keep foods above 140ºF (74%), cool foods more rapidly (68%), use sanitizers correctly (71%), and thoroughly wash and sanitize work surfaces (81%). Likewise, Dine Safe participants indicated that they would improve food safety practices with 87 percent reporting the intent to wash hands more frequently, 71 percent keeping foods hot and cooling food rapidly, and 76 percent thoroughly washing and sanitizing work surfaces before preparing food.