More than ever, consumers are going to the source for their food. In 2020, farmers produced and sold $9 billion worth of edible local food products directly to consumers, retailers, institutions and intermediaries. Direct farm food sales increased 3% from 2015, with direct-to-consumer sales accounting 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 the growth of direct sales, it is crucial to strengthen the country’s food safety system to prevent foodborne illnesses. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports far-reaching efforts to provide farmers with the tools they need to ensure a secure and sustainable food supply, as well as research into innovative technologies to reduce foodborne pathogens and improve food safety processes from the farm level.
research at work
NIFA’s Food Safety Awareness Competitive Grants Program (FSOP) supports tailored food safety education, training, and technical assistance for operators of small and medium-sized farms and food processing facilities. food ; veteran, new and underserved farmers and pastoralists; and small fruit and vegetable wholesalers.
In September 2022, NIFA announced $10 million in funding for 15 Community Outreach Awards and 13 Collaborative Education and Training Awards through the FSOP. The program has also provided five technical assistance supplements that will support grant-writing training and resource development for groups that have not historically been awarded through the FSOP. Learn more about these funded programs here.
NIFA provides additional support to land-grant institutions nationwide through other competitive grant programs as well as capacity funding for research and extension.
On National Farmer’s Day, learn about some of the work being done to help improve food safety.
Researchers from 32 land-grant universities collaborate on innovative solutions for food safety and quality. Their work helps meet consumer demand for minimally processed, additive-free foods with longer shelf lives, higher nutrient content, and less risk of causing foodborne illness. Working together, the team shares tools, labs, expertise, and other resources to conduct cutting-edge food safety research on a variety of foods and food processing environments. Partnership 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 have developed processes that do not depend on heat to kill bacteria, which means that these processes require less energy and do not damage the nutritional and sensory qualities of food. Texas A&M University scientists are investigating ways to use food-grade nanoparticles to reach hard-to-reach areas in food using conventional sanitation methods, while researchers from the University of Hawaii are working on nanoparticle coatings that inhibit microbial growth on aluminum surfaces of food processing equipment. At University of California, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and Rutgers University, work is underway to identify effective alternatives to chlorine washes for the disinfection of fresh produce.
Extension at work
Extension professionals across the country provide farmers and growers with the latest information and tools. Improving on-farm measurements offers many benefits:
- Expanding markets can reduce market risk and improve the economic sustainability of farms.
- Developing a cold chain can reduce spoilage losses.
- The use of disinfectants can improve quality and shelf life.
- Ensure products are as safe as possible benefits to the local community.
- Gaining consumer trust can boost sales of local products.
Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Food safety of fresh produce spearheads statewide efforts to support the implementation of practical and effective on-farm food safety practices through comprehensive, cross-disciplinary fresh food safety training.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers several training options to meet the needs of specialty crop growers, including courses focused on good agricultural practices as well as training to ensure growers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The University of Vermont Extension Servicethe Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets have created a voluntary food safety program to inform and recognize small and medium-sized farms that adopt best practices in product safety, prepare customized product 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 is helping farmers in Maine and New Hampshire improve food safety on their farms. Called Jumpstart to On-Farm Food Safety with Extension, the project offers farmers the opportunity to work one-on-one with a well-trained commodity safety extension educator. Educators help farmers take important steps to address food safety concerns on the farm. The planning process includes an individualized farm risk analysis, followed by the development of a risk reduction action plan specific to the farm’s needs.