click image to zoomVicky BoydA three-year project led by the University of Arkansas will examine food safety in farmers markets and how it can be improved.Researchers hope to enlist smartphones, tablets and the Web to help farmers market vendors and managers improve food safety.
The three-year product, supported by a $414,185 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and being led by the University of Arkansas, is designed to do just that.
“The end goal of this study is to equip vendors and market managers with both scientifically-based and practical educational material that will reduce the likelihood of a foodborne illness outbreak,” Kristen Gibson, assistant professor of food science, said in a press release.
Arkansas has about 50 farmers markets. Through Web-based networks, the group's educational materials can be available to more than 60,000 farmers who sell in 7,100 markets nationwide.
Also involved in the study are co-project directors Sujata Sirsat and Jack Neal, both on the hotel and restaurant management faculty at the University of Houston; and project collaborator Daniel Henroid, director of nutrition and food services at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center.
The group will conduct online focus group surveys of farmers market vendors and managers nationwide to identify current food safety practices. The survey also will ask about the training materials they use.
Consumers in Texas and Arkansas also will be queried online and in person at farmers market to determine their perception of the safety of produce sold there.
In addition, the researchers will examine the configuration of vendor booths to see if they could be improved to avoid cross-contamination among products.
The group hopes to develop quick-response codes that managers, vendors and consumers can use at the market to call up food safety information about products.
Smartphone and tablet applications also will be used to provide information showing users how food safety practices can reduce cross-contamination.