At the top of the list: water, namely irrigation water, Treadaway says.

“They need to be especially aware of the type of water source they’re using to irrigate their produce,” Treadaway says.  “For example, if you’re drawing your water from a pond to which cows and other livestock have access, you’re running the serious risk of exposing your produce to pathogens.”

The use of manure as fertilizer is another critical concern — the reason why farmers are urged to compose manure several weeks before it’s applied as crop fertilizer and not to harvest produce for at least 90 days after manure has been applied.

But as Treadaway and other food safety experts stress during the training, there are even more subtle ways that pathogenic exposure can occur.

“If you happen to be a hunter, for example, you don’t need to haul your hunting dogs or, for that matter, a dead deer or a feral hog on your truck bed the night before you carry produce to market, at least without cleaning the bed thoroughly,” says Dr. Jean Weese, an Alabama Extension food safety specialist and Auburn University professor of food science who heads the Food Safety team.

Weese says the trainers also stress the importance of using clean cutting boards and utensils at farmers markets.

“In too many cases, growers, in showcasing their products to customers, use their pocket knives to slice produce, often on unsanitized surfaces,” Weese says, “We encourage them to use disposable utensils and plates instead.”

The training also emphasizes the importance of separating display produce from the products that are actually sold.

“Customers have a tendency to touch everything, and growers can’t be sure where all these hands have been — the reason why it should be a standard practice to separate display produce from the products that are actually bagged and sent home with the buyer,” Weese says.

Cullman County farmers are not required to take the safe-handing training to sell produce in the Cullman Farmers Market, Glover says. 

For now, he’s adopted a “coalition of the willing” strategy for reaching his farmers market sellers, hoping that as more growers are encouraged to take the training, others will follow suit.  Lately, he’s seen evidence that this strategy is working: A few of the growers who have taken the training have begun displaying their certificates on their market stalls. 

Glover hopes this certification, in addition to translating into an uptick in sales will, in turn, provide an incentive for more noncertified growers to take the training.

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