Farmers’ market in Hawaii requires food safety audits for vendors; different from ‘trust us.’

While regulations provide uniformity of the minimum acceptable practices. the market usually dictates further supplier requirements. Literally if you sell at the Saturday Diamond Head farmers’ market in Oahu. According to KITV, market organizers have started to require that vendors have some sort of verification that they are doing some risk reduction – or at least that they have food safety plans and an auditor has seen a snapshot of the plan in action.

Changes are coming to the Diamond Head Saturday farmers market, which is considered the flagship of Oahu’s farmers markets.
A mix of local produce, flowers and food venders is the draw.But, the Farm Bureau says it is anticipating stricter federal requirements.  Its landlord, Kapiolani Community College, wants to restrict farmers to those who are safety certified.
"It is a mandate.  It is part of their contract.  It’s a liability issue overall, so I understand it, but it’s sooner than I expected," said Dean Okimoto, of the Hawaii Farm Bureau.

Okimoto expects to lose about two farms on its vendor list.
But, for organizers of three other smaller markets — Ala Moana, Haleiwa and Hawaii Kai — it’s another story. They agree on the need for food safety, but they are more worried about a bill that Hawaii lawmakers are considering than the looming federal laws.

They believe requiring all market farmers to be certified would drive up costs and put farmers out of business. "We have a handful of farmers who have gone through the process and stopped, because they couldn’t keep their prices competitive because of the paperwork." said Annie Suite, who along with Pamela Boyer, operate three Oahu markets at Ala Moana Shopping Center, Haleiwa and Hawaii Kai.
"A lot of the farmers will stop farming.  Our immigrant farmers will not be able to do this.  And the thing is we now have a lot of young farmers coming up in their 20s and 30s and we don’t want to discourage them," said Boyer.

KCC and the Farm Bureau may be using food safety as a branding and marketing tool, but some question why it’s not being applied fairly across the board.

"The food vendors do not have to be certified, which is kind of crazy. If you have been to our farmers market, there are more food vendors serving meals than there are farmers," said Glenn Martinez of Olomana Farms (my guess is that the food vendors are regulated by the health department according to the Food Code -ben).

Over the past couple of years one of my graduate students, Allison Smathers, has been working with farmers’ markets in North Carolina to develop and evaluate food safety workshops for market vendors and managers.

Market managers, vendors and organizers have been part of the process from the start. But creating and delivering this training doesn’t mean that practices are impacted. Recognizing the need to measure behavior change (and the limitations of relying on self-reported tests), Allison has enlisted the help of a group of secret shoppers who have collected data on current practices and facilities and provided insight into specific areas to focus on. Stuff the shoppers saw, like improper handwashing, cross-contaminating samples and not monitoring temperatures have been the big focus.

Earlier this year we delivered the curriculum to 70 extension agents who have begun training vendors and managers in the best practices.
We haven’t encountered any markets requiring audits or we do know of a couple of sites that require some sort of GAPs trainings for their vendors, and some managers may require the training Allison has developed in the future.

The secret shoppers will be back out this summer looking again for food safety practices at markets where vendors and managers have been trained – something Allison can compare to what was seen in previous summers. 2010 data was presented at the 2011 IFT annual meeting.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.