The overall goal of this project is to enhance the safety of the most prevalent shelf-stable acidified and formulated acid foods (AAF) being manufactured by small-scale food processors, entrepreneurs and farmers in the Northeast, through an integrated approach that includes extension programs and applied research to develop science-based safety guidelines for direct application in production practices. We will focus on the Northeast as the food production practices and type of products are similar across the region, and both Cornell University and University of Maine provide Recognized Process Authority services to processors in New York, Maine and other Northeastern states.
Specifically we will: <OL> <LI> Address the food safety needs of small-scale food processors in AAF production by: assessing specific knowledge gaps and training needs; designing appropriate extension and outreach programs to address those needs; evaluating the effectiveness of the programs and implement best practices. <LI> Develop, test and implement an alternative training program to the Better Process Control School that meets the FDA requirements for Acidified Foods regulations tailored to small-scale producers. The training will also cover formulated acid foods production. <LI> Determine the effect of acidifying agents and pH with and without preservatives on the safety of shelf-stable acidified and acid food products that do not receive a thermal processing step (cold filled). <LI> Expand and validate science-based guidelines for safe production of AAF that can be used by food safety extension experts and regulators for the development of schedule processes for regulatory compliance.
</ol> As a result of this 3-year project, we expect the following outcomes: Better understanding of the food safety educational and training needs of small-scale processors manufacturing shelf-stable AAF in the Northeast, including best methods for content delivery; New educational materials and programs tailored to fill the knowledge gap in food safety and regulations currently faced by small-scale processors; A dedicated section for safe manufacture of AAF in Cornell's Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship (NECFE) website with all the educational materials developed; An alternative training program to the Better Process Control School designed specifically for AAF production by small-scale artisan processors. An online version of this program will also be developed as a pilot certification course; Updated guidelines for safe manufacture of AAF that do not receive a final pasteurization step (cold filled); Updated and expanded guidelines for food safety extension experts and regulators to develop and verify adequacy of schedule processes for AAF; Training of a large number of people (> 200) associated with small-scale AAF production in the Northeast including processors, regulators and extension educators; Assessment of the impact of the proposed integrated food safety extension and research activities on implementation of best practices to eliminate and minimize hazards, implement appropriate formulation and process controls, and enhance safety of AAF manufactured by small-scale processors.
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Small-scale processors and farmers consistently look to the manufacture and sale of value-added food products to increase and/or diversify their income, as current consumers are interested in local, natural, farm-based foods with distinctive characteristics. As a group, small-scale food processors including those involved in on-farm processing, lack the scientific background to fully understand the food safety concerns when engaging in the processing of value-added foods. These foods are produced in home-based kitchens, restaurants, farm packing houses and shared-use facilities, which are not typically designed for the manufacture of shelf-stable foods. This project aims to enhance the safety of the most prevalent shelf-stable acidified (pickled) and formulated acid foods (such as pickled vegetables, sauces, marinades and dressings) being manufactured by small-scale food processors, entrepreneurs and farmers in the Northeast. An integrated approach will be used that includes extension programs and applied research to develop science-based safety guidelines for direct application in production practices. Our focus is the Northeast as the food production practices and type of products are similar across the region, and both Cornell University and University of Maine currently provide food safety evaluations and services to processors in New York, Maine and other Northeastern states. We will address the food safety needs of small-scale food processors by: assessing specific knowledge gaps and training needs; designing appropriate extension and outreach programs to address those needs; evaluating the effectiveness of the programs and implement best practices. Specifically, we will develop, test and implement an alternative training program to the Better Process Control School that meets the FDA requirements for Acidified Foods regulations, tailored to small-scale producers and including acid foods production. We will also study the effect of different acids, acid levels and the addition of preservatives on the safety of food products that do not receive a heating step. In addition, we will expand and validate science-based guidelines for safe production of acidified and formulated acid foods that can be used by food safety extension experts and regulators for the development of procedures and documentation required for regulatory compliance.
APPROACH: An Advisory Group (AG) will be formed to provide feedback to the Project Directors, comprised of representatives from state and federal regulatory agencies; from pertinent food processors associations/organizations; extension educators; other groups deemed relevant. Initial meetings with the AG will be conducted to determine specific areas of concern regarding the safety of AAF and evident educational needs of processors, inspectors and extension personnel. Survey topics will be developed to design a survey for application in the Northeast. Results will be used to target and prioritize specific food safety content and methods to reach audiences and deliver the educational materials. To evaluate the effectiveness of the extension programs, we will conduct 2 more surveys with the same or similar population at the end of year 2 and 3, as a longitudinal study to assess knowledge gain, changes in behavior and incorporation of safety factors. Methods for content delivery will include workshops, demonstrations and presentations; printed materials (fact sheets, guides, working forms); electronic materials that will incorporate video/audio clips, pictures, diagrams and so forth. Educational materials will be first developed based on current knowledge and practices, and will be periodically updated when new information is available. All educational resources developed will receive individual evaluations by users through surveys/questionnaires. Best practices for increasing food safety of AAF manufactured by small-scale processors will be determined based on final outcomes of the extension and applied research components of this project, and any other new information available from other resources. Dissemination of the findings will be done via presentations, press releases, extension articles and through a dedicated website. A new AAF certificate training program will be developed consisting of 8-10 modules taught in 2-3 days, with lectures, pictures, video clips, hands-on demonstrations and individual use of equipment and instrumentation, how to create and maintain records, and pertinent examinations for each module. Upon satisfactory results, we will work with FDA to pursue FDA approval of the new training school. In Year 3 we will develop an on-line version to test its feasibility, which will include 8-10 training sessions of 1-2 hr with examinations per session, followed by a 1-day workshop with hands-on training activities and a concise review of the online AAF course. A certificate will be issued after program completion. For the applied research component we will study the safety of typical AAF such as salad dressings, marinades and pickled vegetables. We will conduct a review of technical and scientific information available on safety factors related to formulation and processing, and we will develop specific guidelines to determine critical controls and to validate schedule processes for AAF. The work will be conducted during the first 2 years, with additional testing on Year 3. The studies will cover the most prevalent conditions being used to produce AAF.