Vashon Island Growers Association: Farm Food Safety 101

Workshop Report 2012

On Saturday, March 17, the Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA) hosted the second in a series of workshops on farm food safety. This year’s workshop, which built upon an initial session held a year ago for farmers interested in marketing to the Vashon Island School District, was designed as a general introduction for all Island food producers.

VIGA’s Food Safety 101 Workshop was planned and facilitated by Mark Musick, with assistance from Terry Mendenhall, Merrilee Runyan, John Runyan, Nan Wilson, Joanne Jewell, Jeanne Reynen, Beth Tuttle, Karen Biondo, and Jasper Forrester.

A total of 20 people attended the workshop, including fourteen farmers, two farm interns, two people interested in community gardens, Bernie O’Malley of East-West Produce, and Rebecca Wittman, new manager of the Vashon Farmers Market.

Each participant was provided with a revised, updated copy of VIGA’s Farm Food Safety Workbook. In preparation for this year’s program, the workbook was thoroughly revised, with a new introduction, expanded information on managing risks from livestock and wildlife, and detailed information about a new, online food safety planning tool from FamilyFarmed.org: www.onfarmfoodsafety.org.

Merrilee introduced the workshop with a review of VIGA’s efforts to enhance the food culture on Vashon Island and expand the market for locally grown produce. She said this was the first in a year-long series of events that will include three food safety-oriented farm walks and a fall meeting for farmers to share their experience with addressing food safety issues.

Mark said the goals for the workshop were to provide a basic introduction to food safety planning and empower growers to respond to customer questions about their farming practices. He talked about the 3,000 year history of food production on Vashon Island and the central role of food safety in securing the future for our food supply.

In his keynote address to last fall’s Focus on Farming Conference, Seattle attorney Bill Marler encouraged farmers to adopt a “culture of food safety.” Bacteria and viruses, he said, are getting “bigger, stronger, and faster,” and he reviewed the increase in foodborne diseases than now cause 48 million cases of food poisoning, 125,000 hospitalizations, and up to 3,000 deaths each year.

The most common pathogens associated with foodborne outbreaks in produce are E. coli O157:H7, norovirus and salmonella, and the items linked with the most disease outbreaks are lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, sprouts, green onions, melons, and leeks.

Mark added that local farmers are not just confronted with increased incidents of contaminated produce. They are also coping with serious plant and animal diseases, new insects, and climate change, all of which will make it harder to make a living growing food.

Mark quoted Stewart Brand’s statement, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” and added, “We are food professionals and better get good at it if we want to sustain ourselves.” He then introduced the core food-safety issues outlined in the workshop manual: Clean Soil, Clean Water, Clean Hands, Clean Surfaces, and Good Record Keeping.

Jasper Forrester came for the last hour of the workshop to talk about her experience developing a farm food safety plan for GreenMan Farm, which is included in the farm food safety workbook. She passed around a copy of her farm map and then went into detail about the standard operating practices she developed for every aspect of her operation.

She said her farm map is an invaluable planning tool for tracking crop rotations, and she recommended growers consider using the online garden planner from Territorial Seed Company: www.gardenplanner.territorialseed.com.

Regarding soil testing, Jasper said you can get free tests from the King Conservation Service www.kingcd.org/pro_far_soi.htm. For a more in-depth analysis, she relies on soil tests from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: http://www.groworganic.com/complete-soil-analysis.html.

Jasper provided other practical tips, including a recommendation for a food grade sanitizer called “Star San” from Five Star Chemical Company: www.fivestarchemicals.com/breweries/homebrewing/products

Jasper said that everything she grows is sold directly to people on the Island, so she has a close, personal relationship with her customers. She added that to her providing safe food is not just an agreement, it’s a covenant. She is serving a higher cause, Jasper said, and in that context farm food safety requirements are not burdensome.

FOOD SAFETY QUESTIONS
The Food Safety 101 workshop was intended as a brief introduction to the broad topic of farm food safety.  Below are a few questions that came up during the session that would be good to answer in future trainings:

  • How common is pathogen contamination in livestock and wildlife?
  • How should we protect children from germs carried by livestock?
  • Are there organic sanitizers for cleaning hands, surfaces and fresh produce?
  • What are the best water testing labs?

FOOD SAFETY GLOSSARY
In his introduction, Mark Musick noted that one of challenges small farmers face in relating to the USDA’s food safety programs is that much of the language is foreign to them. Below is a list of food safety terms discussed in the workshop:

Bio-Security
Measures taken to keep diseases out of populations, herds, or groups of animals where they do not currently exist or to limit the spread of disease within the herd.  A successful bio-security plan must address isolation of new animals brought to the farm, isolation of sick animals, regulation of the movement of people, animals, and equipment, and procedures for cleaning and disinfecting facilities.

Co-Management
An integrated approach to conserving wildlife and other natural resources while simultaneously minimizing microbiological hazards to food crops.

Cross-contamination
The transfer of harmful bacteria from one food to another. Harmful bacteria can not only be transferred from food to food, but also from hands to food.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
Guidelines for vegetable growers and handlers to minimize the risk of pathogens getting to consumers via produce or other raw materials. GAPs recommend we be aware of potential contaminations (microbial, chemical and physical hazards) and manage operations as to minimize potential risks.

HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point)
Food safety principles used in processing facilities with a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation, and control of food safety hazards.

Hemolytic uremic Syndrome (HUS)
A severe, life-threatening disease caused by E. coli O157 characterized by red blood-cell destruction, kidney failure, and neurological complications, such as seizures and strokes. Most HUS cases are children under 5 years old, although the feeble elderly may also be at risk.

Keystone Habit
A pattern that has the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as it moves through an organization. Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit.” www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-duhigg/the-power-of-habit_b_1304550.html

Potable Water
Clean water that is safe to drink.

Risk Assessment
Identify potential threats to food, animals or humans.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Detailed, written action plans with specific instructions on how to monitor and document a GAPs food safety program.  SOPs include directions, which documentation and checklists to use, personnel training, and what materials need to be posted.

 

FOOD SAFETY WORKSHOP EVALUATION

A few days after the workshop Karen Biondo emailed an evaluation questionnaire to each of the participants, and below is a summary of the comments that were returned.

1. What was your farm food safety knowledge before attending the workshop ? Scale of 1 – 5,

“1”

“2”

“I would honestly say about 2.  I think that I strongly associated issues of food safety with large corporate or factory farms.”

2  After the workshop? Scale of 1 – 5

“4”

“2.5”

“4”

“I’d say I am much more aware of food safety knowledge, so I will give myself a 4.”

 3. How important is this information to your farm practices?

“5”

“More than I thought.”

“Very!”

“Food safety is important to everyone. Even folks who don’t farm should be aware of and ask questions of their farms food safety practices.”

 4. Did this workshop inspire you to think about implementing a Farm Food Safety Plan?

“5”

“Yes!”

“Absolutely”

“Yes, though it’s much simpler for a lavender grower!”

5. What might your first step(s) be?

“Still planning for a community garden; first steps are locating drain fields and charting water flow, creating plan that takes into account hand washing stations (never even thought about before), handling areas, siting compost and manure dumps appropriately.”

“Getting in the habit of keeping records.”

“The farm map, well testing.”

“Moving from chicken yard to garden; pets in lavender fields and veg garden.”

6. What major questions were left unanswered?

“How can farmers create public awareness about food safety to educate their consumers?  What aspect is the farmer’s responsibility and what part is the consumer’s?”

“None for now. Questions may arise but I feel I know where to go for help.”

“Can any food crops be grown on a drain field?  From horseradish to blueberries, I wonder.  Status of soil safety in reference to Asarco plume. Also, is there a range of standards to meet?  For example, we learned what might be required to sell to the schools – is there a different standard to sell in a farmers’ market, or to give to the food bank, or use yourself?”

7. Do you plan to participate in VIGA’s food safety-related Farm Walks?

“Yes”

“Yes”

8. Do you plan to participate in our end of season wrap up?

“Don’t know what it is.”

“Yes”

“Yes”

9. What do you want to see more of in this type of workshop?

“Anything.”

“I would like to see more individual farmers talk about their personal experiences.”

“More interaction.”

10. What suggestions do you have to improve these workshops?

“I enjoyed the workshop quite a lot.  I learned a great deal from both speakers – I liked Mark’s overall view, with quotes and a nice philosophical perspective, and also Jasper Forrester, who gave us hands-on experience and great charts, practical advice.”

“The setting was also wonderful.  One suggestion: in your emails or invitations be sure to let people know there is handicapped parking by the building – the walk in from the road was a challenge for me.”

“It would be nice if there were more ‘hands-on’ type activities.  While I appreciate the lecture format, it’s challenging to process new information for several hours straight without switching things up.  Especially for those of us who are more visual learners, or who learn by doing!”

“More interaction among participants – there’s knowledge in the room; time management in order to get thru all of the parts.”

“A highlight was Jasper’s presentation of her real Farm Food Safety plan—encouraging and practical.”

 

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