Produce on-farm food safety

From planting to distribution, fresh produce can be contaminated by humans, water, animals, soil, equipment, and the environment. Produce growers play an essential role in managing and minimizing on-farm food safety risks. Because of an increase in public awareness about produce safety, farmer food safety education has become an important research and extension topic. This review article summarizes findings by researchers who have evaluated produce growers’ food safety knowledge and attitudes and the effectiveness of food safety educational programs for growers.

A search of on-line databases, journal archives, conference abstracts, and reference lists of relevant studies was conducted to locate peer-reviewed articles on produce growers’ food safety knowledge and behavioral changes. Study selection criteria included publications in English, publication between 2000 and 2019, and a focus on one of six topics: handling of agricultural water, soil amendments, domesticated animal and wildlife management, worker health and hygiene, food safety plans and record-keeping, and cleaning and sanitation. Forty-three published articles were included in the analysis. Handling of agricultural water and soil amendments were the two topics least understood by growers, whereas worker health and hygiene were the best understood. Food safety educational interventions were evaluated in 13 studies, and most studies used in-person workshops and self-reported pre- and postintervention knowledge assessments. Most reported increased knowledge, some reported improved attitudes and perceived behavioral control, and only four reported behavioral changes. Because of small sample sizes, many studies did not include a statistical analysis of the differences between pre- and postintervention survey results. This review article provides insights and guidance for the development of food safety education for produce growers.

Produce growers’ on-farm food safety education: A review

Journal of Food Protection


Ain’t gonna wash it off: On-farm food safety for produce is where it starts

Tomatoes have been implicated in various microbial disease outbreaks and are considered a potential vehicle for foodborne pathogens.

food-art-tomatoTraceback studies mostly implicate contamination during production and/or processing. The microbiological quality of commercially produced tomatoes was thus investigated from the farm to market, focusing on the impact of contaminated irrigation and washing water, facility sanitation, and personal hygiene.

A total of 905 samples were collected from three large-scale commercial farms from 2012 through 2014. The farms differed in water sources used (surface versus well) and production methods (open field versus tunnel). Levels of total coliforms and Escherichia coli and prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella Typhimurium were determined. Dominant coliforms were identified using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. No pathogens or E. coli were detected on any of the tomatoes tested throughout the study despite the high levels of coliforms (4.2 to 6.2 log CFU/g) present on the tomatoes at the market. The dominant species associated with tomatoes belonged to the genera Enterobacter, Klebsiella, and Citrobacter. Water used on the farm for irrigation considered not fit for purpose according to national agricultural irrigation standards, with high E. coli levels resulting from either a highly contaminated source water (river water at 3.19 log most probable number [MPN]/100 ml) or improper storage of source water (stored well water at 1.72 log MPN/100 ml). Salmonella Typhimurium was detected on two occasions on a contact surface in the processing facility of the first farm in 2012. Contact surface coliform counts were 2.9 to 4.8 log CFU/cm2.

Risk areas identified in this study were water used for irrigation and poor sanitation practices in the processing facility. Implementation of effective food safety management systems in the fresh produce industry is of the utmost importance to ensure product safety for consumers.

Microbiological food safety status of commercially produced tomatoes from production to marketing

Journal of Food Protection, Number 3, March 2016, Pages 392-406, DOI:

N. van Dyk, W. de Bruin, E. M. du Plessis, and L. Korsten