‘Proactive’ programming in Loudoun County tackles foodborne illness from the ground up

Each year in the U.S., there are approximately 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths linked to foodborne illness. Twenty foodborne illness outbreaks were reported in 2013 in Virginia alone, with an average of 18 Virginia residents sickened per outbreak.

In Loudoun County, Virginia Cooperative Extension has spent the past two years delivering food safety education programming to locals. In 2015, this included a farmer’s market “Vendor Tuneup” workshop, a presentation on safe food preparation at a farmer’s market annual meeting, a pH testing workshop, two ServSafe Manager courses, on-site evaluations of farms and kitchen operations, and consulting.

In 2016, Extension added onto the program list with food safety and direct marketing workshops for growers, farmers market food safety workshops, ServSafe, a drinking water clinic, and more.

Two greenhouse operations in the area were trained on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification and food safety practices, and have implemented changes as a result of this effort.

Additionally, 100 percent of participants in a farmer’s market “Vendor Tuneup” event indicated they gained and will implement food safety and marketing knowledge. Out of seven participants in two ServSafe Manager courses, five passed with a score of 75 percent or greater.

Food entrepreneurs in the area seeking guidance on food safety requirements completed or are completing these programs to enter their products into commerce. Several of these entrepreneurs said they found the programming helpful.

“I achieved everything I hoped I would, and then some,” said one food entrepreneur who requested consulting on pH testing, product development, and food safety. “The Extension agent provided a ton of useful answers, recommendations — simplifying the canning business and walking me through the processes.”