More than ever, consumers are going to the source for their food. In 2020, farmers produced and sold $9 billion of local edible food commodities directly to consumers, retailers, institutions and intermediaries. Direct farm sales of food increased by 3% from 2015, and direct-to-consumer sales accounted for more than a third of the total. Direct farm sales included both fresh foods and processed or value-added products such as bottled milk, cheese, meat, wine and jams.
With direct sales growing, strengthening the nation’s food safety system to prevent foodborne illness is crucial. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports wide-ranging efforts to provide farmers with the tools they need to ensure a safe and sustainable food supply as well as research into innovative technologies to reduce foodborne pathogens and to improve food safety processes beginning at the farm level.
Research at Work
NIFA’s Food Safety Outreach Competitive Grant Program (FSOP) supports customized food safety education, training and technical assistance for operators of small to mid-size farms and food processing facilities; veteran, beginning and underserved farmers and ranchers; and small-scale vegetable and fruit merchant wholesalers.
In September 2022, NIFA announced $10 million in funding for 15 Community Outreach awards and 13 Collaborative Education and Training awards through FSOP. The program also provided five technical assistance supplements that will support grant writing training and resource development for groups not historically awarded through FSOP. Learn more about these funded programs here.
NIFA provides additional support to the nation’s Land-grant Institutions through other competitive grant programs as well as capacity funding for both research and Extension.
On National Farmers Day, check out some of the work currently being done to foster improved food safety.
Researchers at 32 land-grant universities are collaborating on innovative solutions for food safety and quality. Their work is helping meet consumer demand for minimally processed, additive-free food items with longer shelf lives, higher nutrient content and less potential to cause foodborne illnesses. Working together, the team is sharing tools, labs, expertise and other resources to conduct cutting-edge food safety research on a variety of foods and food processing environments. Partnering with other universities, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the food industry further enhances research capacity and impact. With members in 30 states, the team can reach a wide audience with food safety education and training.
As part of this multi-state effort, University of Minnesota researchers developed processes that do not rely on heat to kill bacteria, which means these processes require less energy and do not damage the nutritional and sensory qualities of the food. Texas A&M University scientists are studying ways to use food-grade nanoparticles to reach areas in food that are difficult to access using conventional sanitization methods, while researchers at the University of Hawaii are working on nanoparticle coatings that inhibit microbial growth on aluminum surfaces of food processing equipment. At the University of California, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and Rutgers University, work is underway to identify effective alternatives to chlorine washes for sanitizing fresh produce.
Extension at Work
Extension professionals across the country are providing farmers and producers with the latest information and tools. Improved on-farm measures offers many benefits:
- Expanding markets can reduce market risk and improve farm economic sustainability.
- Developing a cold chain can reduce losses due to spoilage.
- Using sanitizers can improve quality and shelf life.
- Ensuring produce is as safe as possible benefits the local community.
- Building consumers’ trust can boost the sales of local produce.
Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Fresh Produce Food Safety team is spearheading statewide efforts to support the implementation of practical and effective on-farm food safety practices through comprehensive, interdisciplinary fresh produce food safety education.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers multiple training options to meet the needs of specialty crop growers including courses that focus on good agricultural practices as well as training to ensure growers are in compliance with Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The University of Vermont Extension Service, the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets created a voluntary food safety program to inform and recognize small- and medium-sized farms that adopt best practices for produce safety, prepare customized produce safety plans, and comply with the intent of the FSMA Product Safety Rule.
Led by the University of New Hampshire, a new joint state initiative helps farmers in Maine and New Hampshire improve food safety on their farms. Called Jumpstart to Farm Food Safety with Extension, the project offers farmers the chance to work individually with an Extension educator who is well trained in produce safety. Educators help farmers take important steps to address food safety concerns on the farm. The planning process includes individualized farm risk analysis, followed by the development of a risk reduction plan of action specific to a farm’s needs.