Non Technical Summary
The long-term goal of this Collaborative Education and Training Project is to decrease potential food safety risks related to the production and distribution of microgreens--an emerging salad crop for which minimal information is available. First, we will characterize production and distribution aspects of the microgreens industry. Next, we will develop i) novel food safety training curriculum targeting the niche group of microgreens producers and ii) guidance documents for buyers and regulators of microgreens. The add-on curriculum facilitates integration of the FSMA Produce Safety rule among microgreen growers across the U.S. The proposed research will fill gaps in our current knowledge regarding production practices and operational characteristics of microgreens producers. Microgreens operations are more likely to implement recommended practices customized to meet their specific needs as opposed to generic produce safety recommendations available through PSA grower training courses. Moreover, guidance materials to assist consumers, buyers, and regulators navigating through the emerging microgreens industry will be created. The proposed work specifically addresses the Food Safety Outreach program priority to deliver "customized training to very specific target audiences."
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories
Goals / Objectives
The long-term goal of this Collaborative Education and Training Project is to decrease potential food safety risks related to the production and distribution of microgreens--an emerging salad crop for which minimal information is available. A first step to achieving this goal is to characterize production practices, facilities, and distribution aspects of the microgreens industry. An intermediate step will be to develop i) novel food safety outreach 'add-on' curriculum targeting the niche group of microgreens producers and ii) guidance documents for buyers and regulators of microgreens. The add-on curriculum aims to facilitate integration of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety rule among microgreen growers across the United States. The five primary objectives to achieve our long-term goal are:Characterize production and distribution aspects of the microgreens industry.Determine barriers to implementation of risk management practices within microgreens operations using environmental assessments.Utilize science-based evidence to develop commodity-specific training for producers of microgreens.Utilize science-based evidence and regulatory standards to develop commodity-specific guidance documents for buyers and regulators of microgreens.Deliver and evaluate novel outreach materials targeting producers, buyers, and regulators of microgreens.
Activities and Sequence ProposedCharacterize production and distribution aspects of the microgreens industry: Initially, a comprehensive list of microgreens growing operations and producers will be created. To do this we will utilize members of the Project Management Team which include organizations that provide forums for microgreens producers (i.e., iGrow and Microgreens Facebook group) to exchange information, and word of mouth through cooperating producers and posting information with organizations. To recruit producers for our study, we will email producers, explaining the purpose of the study. Next, we will call producers to screen for eligibility and secure their participation. Data about production practices, farm characteristics, employee training requirements, and commonly used and preferred sources for food safety information will be collected from participating producers. We will also collect data about characteristics of the business operation, (i.e. growing operation start date, agricultural products grown, number and demographic characteristics of employees, structure (full/part-time), and average tenure of employees, sales, sales activity), operating costs, and sustainability. Combined, these data will allow for an in-depth characterization of microgreens growing operations.Determine barriers to implementation of risk management practices within microgreens operations using environmental assessments: Global GAP, and USDA Audit checklists to create an environmental assessment (EA) form specifically tailored to microgreens growing operations. We will also incorporate the GAP guidelines for greenhouse vegetable crops developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), although it is not specific to microgreens production. Last, we will consider the Greenhouse Audit Guidelines checklist provided by PrimusLabs. The instrument will be designed to describe and assess characteristics and practices associated with implementation of risk management strategies. The EA tools will be informed by our findings from the producer surveys and interviews (Objective 1). For example, potential modifications or customization will be developed for the type of production system (fully indoors, greenhouse, split system) as well as type of operation (growing operation, home, restaurant, combination).Utilize science-based evidence to develop commodity-specific training for producers of microgreens: Based on the results of the survey/interviews and the environmental assessments, we will create a commodity-specific curriculum to facilitate integration of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule among microgreens growers in the United States. An English-language, commodity-specific curriculum (lesson plan, interactive activities, evaluation tools) will be developed for use with microgreens growers. The training sessions will be online and include video demonstration and animation, as we believe this approach is more conducive to the needs of microgreens growers.Utilize science-based evidence and regulatory standards to develop commodity-specific guidance documents for buyers and regulators of microgreens: Based on the results of the survey/interviews and the environmental assessments, we will create commodity-specific guidance to assist buyers with understanding microgreens production, quality, and safe handling practices. We will create guidance to disseminate to state health officials and regulatory agencies to use in periodic inspector training. A national webinar will be held in partnership with national regulators to provide clarification on the body of regulations that impact this industry, and these materials will be offered to state health officials for periodic training. During the webinar and accompanying the materials to state departments of health, a short survey will be provided to get baseline data on regulators' perception of practices allowed or prohibited by state and federal food policy.Deliver and evaluate novel outreach materials targeting producers, buyers, and regulators of microgreen: To evaluate curriculum effect, we will employ a randomized experimental design using a waitlist control group to determine effect of the commodity-specific training materials (Objective 3). We will recruit at least 100 microgreens growers, who will agree to complete the training. Using a random assignment process, one-half of participating producers will be assigned to receive training during the study period. This group will receive the commodity-specific training and will serve as the treatment group. The remaining growers will be placed on a waitlist and receive the training at the end of the study period, serving as the control group. Both groups will complete pre- and post-test surveys. Tests of the effect of training on risk management practices will be conducted by measuring self-reported changes in key risk management practices pre- to post-intervention in the treatment group against changes in key risk management practices pre- to post-intervention among the control group, with the null hypothesis of no difference between groups. State Restaurant Associations will be contacted to identify personnel responsible for communicating policy changes, business opportunities, or marketing programs to member restaurants. These personnel typically provide support to restaurant owners, operators, and managers. These personnel will be asked to disseminate guidance documents and promote participation in the online educational sessions. In addition, state Departments of Health or other appropriate state entities will be contacted to identify the supervisors of environmental health programs responsible for working with direct-to-consumer, retail, and manufacturing food businesses that are monitored or regulated by the state. These departments typically receive requests for technical assistance about proper food safety practices related to produce, harvest, processing, and food sales. The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) will also aid in engagement of regulators. Supervisors of these programs will be asked to disseminate guidance documents and promote participation in the online educational sessions and webinar to the field inspectors and clientele. Similar to the training materials created for microgreens producers, the corresponding guidance documents will be reviewed by a sample of buyers and regulators. Using a survey methods approach, we will ask questions about clarity, accuracy, practicality, and overall ease of use. Multimedia tools -which may include infographics, animations, videos, or interactive modules - will be distributed via multiple methods: at mobile demonstration events, through university Extension networks, and through direct engagement of stakeholders at industry and professional meetings. As well as at the project website, media tools will be posted at YouTube and on social media and contributed to educational portals such as eXtension and Cal State's MERLOT.