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Good Agricultural Practices Online Produce Safety Course


This project contains two main objectives. The first objective is to design, implement, and evaluate an online training course focused on reducing microbial risks to fresh fruits and vegetables through education and implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). The Good Agricultural Practices Online Produce Safety Course (GAPs OPSC) will be developed for fruit and vegetable growers and others in the produce industry including farm managers, government inspection service personnel, GAPs auditors, and retail industry personnel. The content of this online course will include information on foodborne illnesses associated with produce, microorganisms of concern in production agriculture, GAPs implementation, and ways to assure produce safety. This course, upon completion and evaluation of three pilot courses, will be modified as needed and translated into Spanish so that the course can be offered in two languages. This online course will be accessible and available to many individuals from across the nation, as well as around the world, requiring only access to the internet. The production and packing of fruits and vegetables usually occurs in rural areas due to the need for large expanses of affordable land and every state in the nation has some type of agricultural production on some scale, even if it is for seasonal, local, direct marketing. This means that there are people all across the US in predominantly rural areas that should have produce food safety training since produce safety is important regardless of the size of the farm or distribution network. The GAPs OPSC will allow individuals in rural areas to be directly engaged in produce safety training.


The second objective is to scientifically assess the GAPs OPSC impact on students. There are many benefits to an online course when compared to traditional in-class training including less time away from work at critical production periods, minimal travel costs, and information delivered in a consistent, uniform manner. A scientific assessment of the course will allow for the determination of long-term student knowledge gain, resulting GAPs implementation, and the effectiveness of presenting the information online. Research beyond evaluating student satisfaction with the course is an important component in determining the overall impact and relevance of online GAPs training.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Microbial contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables results in human foodborne illnesses. The purpose of this project is to provide access to training about produce safety and the implementation of good agricultural practices through the development of an online course.


APPROACH: The initial step in the development of the GAPs OPSC will be to conduct a Delphi study to focus the content to meet the needs of a 2-3 week online course. This information will be used to develop the course direction, outline, and content from available educational resources. Content oversight will be monitored by a 12-member advisory committee made up of individuals representing a diverse cross-section of the produce industry. Online delivery of the course will utilize a structured flexibility model which is a student centered, problem-based approach. The students will have the convenience of 24-hour access to course materials, yet have a defined schedule of course milestones. A dedicated online instructor will facilitate a group of up to 25 students in online discussions related to the course subject matter using web-based discussion boards. Students will be able to log on and interact, asynchronously, regardless of location or time zone. As part of the quality assurance service, an evaluation plan will be developed for the online course to determine if the online delivery meets the goals of the course and to assess the level of student learning in the online course. Students who complete the GAPs OPSC will be surveyed post-completion to assess the impact of the course and to determine the GAPs implementation that has resulted. Using the Kirkpatrick model of four progressive levels of evaluating education as a guide, the survey will assess student reaction, learning, and behavior changes, particularly focusing on the adoption of food safety practices.


PROGRESS: 2007/09 TO 2008/09<BR>
OUTPUTS: The Good Agricultural Practice Online Produce Safety Course (GAPsOPSC) content was finalized and the first pilot was launched April 9, 2008. The course contains five modules. Module titles and lessons within each module are briefly outlined below. Module One: Welcome to Implementing GAPs: A Key to Produce Safety; Module Two: Shared Responsibility in Food Safety, 2.1.0 Reasons for Engagement; Module Three: Good Agricultural Practices, 3.1 Worker Training, Hygiene, and Health, 3.2 Water Use, 3.3 Postharvest Water Use, 3.4 Soil Amendments, 3.5 Cleaning and Sanitation, 3.6 Traceback and Recall, 3.7 Crisis Management, 3.8 Other Important Practices; Module Four: Implementing Change, 4.1 Education and Training in Food Safety, 4.2 Building the Plan; Module Five: Course Conclusion, 5.1 Concluding Activities. A total of four pilot courses were conducted throughout the year. A course letter of intent was added as a requirement beginning with class 3 to better inform students of expectations and attempt to lower the number of individuals who enrolled in the course but subsequently did not participate or complete the course. This letter of intent greatly improved course completion rates and reduced the rate of student no-shows. Each class was limited to 25 participants. Now that the four pilot courses have been offered and evaluated, there will be a full curriculum review to make any necessary changes or improvements that have been identified through the evaluation process. When the revised curriculum is completed, it will be translated into Spanish so that the course will be offered in both English and Spanish. The GAPsOPSC attracted individuals from industry including growers, packers, and trade association personnel as well as federal auditors, government officials, cooperative extension educators, and academics. Using Kirkpatrick's model of four progressive levels of evaluating education as a guide, the overall course evaluation method was designed to assess student reaction, learning, and behavior changes, particularly focusing on the adoption of food safety practices. Initial evaluation included a pre-course survey to determine base knowledge as well as the motivation and goals of participating in the course. The post-course survey included several of the pre-course survey questions with the addition of questions that allow students to rate different aspects of the course. In addition to measuring student reaction and short term knowledge gain, participants were asked to provide their name and contact information to participate in an additional evaluation to be completed at least 4 months post course. This survey will attempt to evaluate the transfer of new knowledge into their job performance and elucidate the resulting effects on the fresh produce operations in which they work. <BR>

IMPACT: 2007/09 TO 2008/09<BR>

The GAPsOPSC was well received by participants. A total of 73 individuals completed the three week course passing all the course requirements including quizzes and submitting required class projects. Seventy three individuals completed the pre-course evaluation and forty five individuals completed the post-course evaluation. The four month post course evaluation is being developed for submission to students that have completed the course and that provided contact information. In several of the post-course survey questions, participants were asked to rank their responses from 1-5, where 1= Strongly Disagree, 3= Neutral and 5 = Strongly Agree. Here is a selection of questions regarding course content and the results. The course content presented met my expectation of high quality: 1 (2 percent), 3 (7percent), 4 (35.5 percent), 5 (55.5 percent). The course content offer the appropriate level of depth and detail: 1 (4 percent), 3 (2 percent), 4 (47 percent), 5 (36 percent). For overall course evaluation questions, participants were asked to rank responses from 1-5, where 1 = poor, 3 = good and 5 = excellent. The overall rating of the course content: 3 (4 percent), 4 (40 percent), 5 (56 percent). One hundred percent of respondents (45) would recommend this course to others. Participants were given the opportunity to comment directly about the course. Here are four selected comments that provide a broad view of the extent and content of comments about the program. All comments will be reviewed during the evaluation period to improve the course. Comment 1: The case studies were a good way to get students thinking about the food safety process for fresh produce especially the need for good record keeping and trace back one step in each direction. They also highlighted the need for everyone to be educated and engaged for a food safety program to be successful from "farm to fork". Resolution of issues brought out in case studies were not necessarily complicated, high tech, or highly expensive-there were quite often simple steps to take to re-mediate the problem(s) once they had been identified. Comment 2: Some topics were covered in a pretty general way. More specific details, like back-flow devices, hydro cooling temps, and conditions for storing produce, would strengthen the content. There are several things mentioned in the GAPs self-audit that would be good to include. Comment 3: I am now inspired to get our GAPs Program rolling! Comment 4: After learning how to use the online Course, thought the information was very useful. It helped me in not being overwhelmed in writing my food safety plan. The initial analysis of these evaluations provides confidence that the course content is meaningful to the participants and that they feel they are benefiting from participating in the GAPsOPSC. Additionally, the fact that all participants would recommend this course to others provides insight into the importance of this topic to the fresh produce industry and that they participants think other would benefit from this information.

PROGRESS: 2006/09/15 TO 2007/09/14<BR>

OUTPUTS: The Good Agricultural Practices Online Produce Safety Course Project is well under way and substantial progress has been made on Objective 1: To design, implement, and evaluate an online produce safety course. A Delphi study was conducted with participants from horticulture, food science, microbiology, education, and veterinary science. To summarize, a Delphi study consists of a series of questionnaires sent to a pre-selected group of experts. These questionnaires are designed to elicit and develop individual responses to determine which GAPs topics are most critically important for inclusion in the course. The Delphi study provided a weighted list of pertinent topics that were included in the online course. These topics will provide course participants with relevant information on produce safety concepts and how to apply them in reducing food safety risk during the production and packing of fresh fruits and vegetables. The results of the Delphi study are highlighted in the outcomes and impacts section. The Delphi generated list of priorities was used to create modules and topics for the online course during the winter and spring of 2007. Working with collaborators at eCornell, course content containing five modules and 67 detailed design guidelines were developed. In August 2008, the Advisory Committee made up of individuals representing a diverse cross-section of the produce industry met in New York to review each lesson, evaluate content, and identify areas that required modification. Comments and edits resulting from this meeting were incorporated into course content and submitted to the eCornell designers to build the online course complete with lessons, images, and necessary navigation tools. Upon completion of this first version, a test site was established so Advisory Committee members could log into the course and view course content including lessons, quizzes, class projects, and instructor/student interaction capabilities. The Advisory Committee provided comments and edits and the course is currently being updated based on this information. There will be a final review of the course on January 4, 2008 at which point it will be sent to a pre-launch review at eCornell to verify all technology is functional and ready for a February 13, 2008 launch. <BR>
PARTICIPANTS: Advisory Committee Members: James Gorny (UC Davis), Gale Prince (retired Kroger Co.), Larry Beasley (A. Duda and Sons), Pilar Parra (Rural Sociology-Cornell), Travis Park (Education-Cornell), Jeff Kubecka (NY Vegetable Growers Assoc.), Eric Hansen (grower), Michelle Smith (FDA), Leanne Skelton (USDA Fresh Products Division), Robert Hadad (Cornell Cooperative Extension), Maria Vidauri (California Strawberry Commission), Randy Worobo (Food Science Microbiology-Cornell). As noted by the diverse companies, organizations, and disciplines, the Advisory Committee members provide a broad range of perspectives and expertise. eCornell project lead for online course: Brian Dashew<BR>
TARGET AUDIENCES: The broad target audience is everyone involved in the production and packing for fresh fruits and vegetables including growers, packers, extension educators, state and federal government personnel, industry organization members, and retail market personnel. In terms of impacting actions, the course will provide growers and packers with the knowledge and resources to develop and implement a produce safety plan for their farms and packinghouses with the goal of improving the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Extension educators, industry organization members, and government personnel often provide guidance and assistance to fresh fruit and vegetable producers so improving their base knowledge is also important to the implementation of food safety practices.

IMPACT: 2006/09/15 TO 2007/09/14<BR>

The Good Agricultural Practices Online Produce Safety Course Delphi Study produced a weighed list of topics that should be included in the course to insure its scientific relevance. Below is a list of all topics with their associated weight on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the most relevant and 1 being the least relevant. For the design of the course, all topics ranked 4.0 or above were prioritized for inclusion. Lower ranked topics were included when possible and where there existed a logical link to higher ranked topics. Irrigation water management(4.8), Development of a food safety plan (4.8), Worker hygiene and training (4.5), Equipment sanitation (4.5), Field sanitation (4.3), Manure and compost handling (4.3*), Post-harvest water use (4.2), How to conduct microbiological testing(4.1), Packing facility sanitation (4.0), Management requirements for food safety (4.0*), Understanding microorganisms of concern (3.9), Terminology in food safety (3.8), External Resources (3.5), Domestic and wild animal management (3.6), Outbreaks impacts to the industry (3.4), Transportation(3.3), Awareness of the current and historical land use (3.1), Other food safety hazards (chemical, physical)(2.8). An * designates a standard deviation of greater than 1 and likely resulted because participants could not come to consensus. For instance, manure and compost handling had a large deviation because not all producers use manure. Many states have gone to chemical fertilization due to lack of a manure source or cost of manure, but in other states that have large animal operations manure is widely available and frequently used because of its benefits to the soil. The Delphi study was extremely valuable in assuring that relevant topics were included in the design of the course. In addition to the rankings, participants included specific topics within each area that should be addressed. For the sake of readability, only the topic areas and rankings are included in this summary.

Gravani, Robert; Bihn, Elizabeth
Cornell University
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