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Garden to Table: Food Safety Practices for Home Gardeners

Investigators
Pivarnik, Lori; Patnoad, Martha
Institutions
University of Rhode Island
Start date
2003
End date
2007
Objective
1. Assess the knowledge of and attitudes toward good agricultural practices of home gardeners in New England.

2. Develop and implement and in-depth, on-site structured interview and observation record to assess growing/harvesting and post-harvest handling practices for a random sample of home gardeners.

3. Comparison of regional survey to on-site evaluations and assessment of risks related to practices as defined by GAP.

4. Develop and implement a train-the-trainer program for Master Gardener volunteers.

5. Improve the food safety practice of home gardeners in the New England region through a pilot educational program.

6. Determine effectiveness of the outreach apprach using the Master Gardener system as the delivery mechanism during the pilot program.

7. Expansion of educational program in New England states as well as other states in the Northeast region.

More information
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY:
While considerable effort has been made in the last few years to integrate good agricultural food safety practices on commercial farms, guidance and educational efforts have not been directed at the home fruit and vegetable gardeners. Direct impact of home gardening practices and post-harvest handling on the risks of foodborne illness has not been studied. The goal of this project will be to improve the food safety practices of New England home gardeners. Specifically, food safety principles outlined in the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) model for commercial agriculture will be integrated into the production practices of fresh fruits and vegetables by the home gardener. In addition, food safety issues associated with post-harvest handling and storage practices will also be addressed.

APPROACH:
A consumer survey will be designed to assess the knowledge of and attitudes toward agricultural practices of home gardeners in New England. A random sample of fruit and vegetable home gardeners will be targeted for survey by using a list procured from a professional mailing list company. Anticipating a 60% return rate, 3,500 surveys will be administered throughout the region using the Dillman Total Design Method. The general survey will gather demographic information, assess baseline knowledge in areas such as foodborne illness as it relates to microbial contamination and attitudes towards the importance of the role of the home gardener in protecting produce from pathogenic microorganisms. Survey content validity and reliability will be ascertained. Agree/Disagree statements and 5-point Likert scales will be used. Descriptive statistics, t-test and ANOVA will be used for data evaluation. An in-depth, on-site structured interview and observation record will be developed and implemented to assess growing and post-harvest handling practices for a random sample of home gardeners in each New England state. The population pool will be obtained from survey participants, consumers contacting food safety hotlines, Cooperative Extension County offices and/or advertising. This data will be assessed using descriptive statistics and results compared to the regional consumer survey. The survey and interview will contain comparable questions to assess whether attitudes and knowledge information gathered from the survey reflect practice information obtained through the on-site evaluation. The data will be analyzed by t-test or Chi-squares tests. Perceived benefits, barriers and intention to change behaviors will be identified as well as where food safety knowledge may be lacking. Results obtained through the research component will be used to develop and implement educational intervention targeting home gardeners in a pilot program throughout the region. Outreach strategies will focus on the training and use of the Master Gardener network to facilitate both the on-site data collection and implementation of outreach efforts for food safety principles and practices for home production of fruits and vegetables and post-harvest handling of produce. The state project directors, with the help state advisory groups, will develop new or modify existing resources to implement both a train-the-trainer program for Master Gardeners and for educational programming for home gardeners. Master Gardener volunteers will be recruited and trained to conduct on-site interviews and record observations and on GAP principles, science behind these guidelines as well as recommended post-harvest handling practices. The volunteers will implement educational efforts to the gardening public through a pilot program through presentations, workshops, exhibits, toll-free hotlines and print and voice media. An evaluation protocol will be designed to assess the program, its impact and success for all project components - train-the-trainer, outreach, and implementation- and its results used to revise programming as necessary for program expansion within the region and other states.

PROGRESS: 2003/09 TO 2007/09
OUTPUTS: This project was very successful and all project research and outreach objectives were completed. As indicated in previous reports, the needs assessment survey of home gardeners and on-site, structured interview of home gardeners were completed and results used to guide development of all educational programming. A training program for Master GardeMaster Gardener (MG) train-the-trainer and home gardener educational PowerPoint presentations (with notes), portable display, home gardener brochure, and one-page fact sheets were all completed and used in all participating states -RI, CT, NH, ME and VT. Educational materials included food safety information from garden to table, and fresh fruit and vegetable storage information. Assessment of the train-the-trainer program included a pre/post-test, and evaluation of the usefulness and effectiveness of the MG training. Training of volunteers included food safety instruction regarding all aspects of produce safety, from garden to table. Once trained, MG volunteers in all states conducted a variety of outreach initiatives for home gardeners. Brochures and/or fact sheets were distributed at all educational locations. Individual states also developed some of their own materials such as a newsletter or newspaper articles, and segments on local television stations potentially reaching tens of thousands of viewers in the state. The use of the on-site exhibit/display at fairs, festivals, farmer's markets, gardening seminars and other venues was a popular educational tool used by the MG volunteers. Trained volunteers answered consumer's questions and referred them to the brochure and fact sheet resource materials that were specifically developed for this project. State coordinators reported 22 speaking engagements and 38 venues utilizing the display-all with the potential audience of close to 25,000 consumers and documented distribution of over 4,000 pieces of printed materials developed through the program (brochure and fact sheet distribution was not ascertained for all outreach activities and was probably much higher). Papers and posters were also presented at professional meetings such as Institute of Food Technologists and Master Gardener Regional meetings. A CD containing all the educational resources, training instructions, evaluation sheets and presentations (train-the-trainer and home gardener) was completed and sent to all CSREES state food safety contacts. Finally, the project directors in all participating states have indicated their plans to continue the home gardener food safety, from garden to table, program using MG volunteers and incorporate key information into annual and/or advanced MG training. Therefore the collaboration/partnership between the Master Gardener volunteer network and food safety educators that has been promoted by this project will be sustained.

PARTICIPANTS: University of Rhode Island, Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences: Lori Pivarnik, PhD, Coordinator, Food Safety Education and Outreach. Co - PI for the project; Martha S Patnoad, MS, CFSP, Coop Ext. Prof,Food Safety Ed Spec. Co-PI for the project; Robert Gable, Ph D Consultant and Professor Emeritus, University of Connecticut, Expert evaluator. University of Connecticut, Department of Nutritional Sciences: Diane W Hirsch, MPH, RD - Cooperative Extension Educator, Food Safety. University of Maine, Cooperative Extension: James Dill, Ph.D., Pest Management, Professor David Handley, Ph.D., Professor, Vegetable and Small Fruit Specialist. University of New Hampshire Animal and Nutritional and Medical Laboratory Sciences: Catherine Violette, PhD, RD, Coop Ext. Spec, Food and Nutrition. University of Vermont Cooperative Extension: Dale Steen, MED, Coop Ext Reg Food Safety Specialist. Cooperators/Partners: Master Gardener Program and coordinators and all participating Universities.

TARGET AUDIENCES: As described previously, the target audiences were Master Gardener volunteers and home gardeners of fresh fruits and/or vegetables A PowerPoint presentation was developed along with role-playing scenarios for use during the training of Master Gardeners for on-site interviews in each of the participating states. With all needs assessment and in-depth interviews completed, efforts used to deliver science-based, food safety knowledge followed the protocol outlined previously. These included training sessions for the Master Gardener volunteers, and speaker engagements and appearances at fairs and festivals by the trained volunteers. Master gardener Coordinators in each state facilitated all outreach efforts by the MG volunteers. Outreach efforts included development and implementation of PowerPoint presentations (for Master Gardener and home gardener training), self-standing display, a 12-page brochure and one-page fact sheets. In addition a CD with all information for training and outreach was sent to food safety contacts in the USDA/CSREES network.

IMPACT: 2003/09 TO 2007/09
Results of the needs assessment survey regarding food safety knowledge of fresh fruits and vegetables by New England home gardeners showed that knowledge levels for all areas of home gardening and post harvest handling was low. Knowledge questions were assessed using five gardening timelines (general food safety, soil preparation, planting, harvesting, post harvest handling) and four content (foodborne illness, sanitation, water quality, compost/manure application) categories. Mean percent correct ranged from .61 - .71 for timeline and .59 - .74 for content areas. Using 80% as subject mastery standard, only 23 of 56 items queried (41%) met the standard. Less than 50% of the survey questions were answered incorrectly or the respondent indicated that they did not know the answer. The results of this survey strongly indicated a lack of food safety knowledge among New England home gardeners and supported the need for outreach programming. The follow-up, on-site interview used as a, in-depth probe to the regional survey of home gardeners (N=94), showed a lack of understanding between the sources and mechanism of pathogenic bacteria contamination and homegrown produce. Home gardeners, while acknowledging they could get sick from produce, did not seem to understand that contamination could come from a variety of sources such as soil, compost, fresh manure and/or water supply. If home gardeners understood the correct reasons for practices, behaviors might improve or become more consistent. In addition, those survey respondents identifying themselves as Master Gardeners also did not meet the desired mastery level, and, therefore, training for the volunteers included expanded food safety instruction regarding all aspects of produce safety, from garden to table. Overall, 122 volunteer Master Gardeners were trained. The comprehensive training was clearly necessary as the pre-test (N=95) and post-test (N=92) scores were significantly different (p<0.05) at 56% and 87%, respectively. All states had similar individual scores.

Evaluation of training effectiveness was accomplished using a 5-point Likert scale from not useful (1) to extremely useful (5). All aspects of the MG train-the-trainer program were evaluated as 4.0 or higher indicating very or extremely useful (N=122). In addition,86% indicated they had learned new food safety information and 72% indicated that they planned to change their practices as a result of the train-the-trainer program. While consumer evaluations were difficult to obtain, those who did respond found the display and/or presentation generally very useful, easy to understand and effective. Anecdotal information reported by Master Gardener volunteers indicated that consumer/home gardener questions, particularly at venues when the displays were used, reflected a strong interest for food safety information, garden to table. The overall project impact was the education and/or awareness of both Master Gardener volunteers and home gardeners for integration of food safety principles into planting, harvesting and post harvest handling of produce and, thus, decreasing the risk of pathogenic contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
RI0004287
Accession number
196801
Categories
Education and Training
Bacterial Pathogens
Sanitation and Quality Standards
Natural Toxins
Commodities
Produce