The goal of a nearly $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Capacity Building grant is keeping products sold at Delmarva’s farmers markets safe from potential foodborne illness and preparing local farmers for the mandated 2021 compliance with the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act.
Dr. Chyer Kim, a food scientist at Virginia State University, is the principal investigator for the three-year project in collaboration with Dr. Salina Parveen, professor of food science and technology at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Dr. Theresa Nartea, marketing extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension; and scientists at Delaware State University.
The number of farmers markets on Delmarva and across the country has steadily increased in the last 20 years as small farmers rely more heavily on direct-to-consumer outlets such as farmers markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture, Parveen said.
In 2017, Karen Stillerman, a senior analyst with the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, reported that more than 167,000 farms sold $8.7 billion worth of food to the public.
Parveen said the research project funded by the grant aims to assess the bacterial communities, level of foodborne pathogens and prevalence of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria on at-risk food products obtained from farmers markets on Delmarva, investigate pathogen transmissions among neighboring states, and develop research-based training modules on safe food production and handling.
The findings from the study, titled Preparing for the Future: Building Capacity for Food Safety Compliance at Farmers Markets, will be used to conduct research and workshops for stakeholders though each of the institutions’ researchers.