US study charts changes in food safety practices

Tom Karst of The Packer writes U.S. growers are using less risky irrigation sources and are sanitizing their equipment more often than 20 years ago. 

Geez that’s about how long my group was doing on-farm food safety and looking at those exact questions.

Guess on-farm food safety is just a John Prine song.

Those observations are part of a new study called “Changes in U.S. Produce Grower Food Safety Practices from 1999 to 2016,” authored by economists Gregory Astill, Travis Minor and Suzanne Thornsbury.

The study is available online without cost until July 5.

“Since 1999, and before the implementation of U.S. Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, the share of growers who use practices that reduce the risk of microbial contamination increased,” the study concluded.

The study said fewer growers use flowing surface water for irrigation and more growers use well water. As organic production has increased over time, the study found that more growers use manure and compost. And while more growers’ fields are next to livestock, the authors said more growers use fencing around production areas.

“The most prominent example of change is the increase in frequency that growers and sanitize harvest tools,” the study said. “The decrease in growers who never wash harvest tools is drastic as is the decrease in those who never sanitize.” 

Even with the increase in food safety practices, the study said more needs to be done.

“The data available for this article also demonstrates a real need to implement more frequent measures of food safety practices within this rapidly evolving industry,” the authors said.