UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Addressing a problem revealed a few years ago by researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State Extension will test a food safety training program for farmers market vendors in select cities across Pennsylvania this summer.
The pilot program, which will include a three-hour, face-to-face session, is directed at small-scale food processors and farmers who are producing foods for sale at farmers markets and farm stands. The training encompasses key food safety concepts, such as safe processing and preparation methods, guidance for managing food safety risks in the retail setting and other important food safety-related information.
Catherine Cutter, professor of food science and food safety extension specialist; Joshua Scheinberg, doctoral student in food science; and Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate; designed the training. The program grew out of research published in 2013 by Scheinberg and Cutter that revealed higher percentages of the pathogens salmonella and campylobacter in whole chickens sampled from farmers markets in Pennsylvania, when compared to those purchased at supermarkets.
It's not a minor problem, the scientists said. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers markets in the United States has more than quadrupled -- to more than 8,000 -- in the last 20 years.
In Pennsylvania, there are more than 300 farmers markets currently operating. Not only are there more farmers markets, but foods now sold at these markets go far beyond fresh produce.
"When we started looking at farmers markets, we began to notice that they weren't just selling local produce but had become venues for new entrepreneurs and small food processors to sell more complex and high-risk foods, such as poultry and meats, cheeses, sauces and other prepared foods," Scheinberg said.