OSU Train the Trainers workshops keep agricultural workers on track with food safety

Participants in a Train the Trainers Food Safety Workshop.

Food safety education is the key to preventing the risk of food contamination in the supply chain, especially when crops are harvested directly by workers. In those cases, farms must remain especially vigilant to ensure their fruit and vegetables are pathogen-free and maintain high standards in cleaning and sanitation practices to prevent potential outbreaks.

Train the Trainers Food Safety workshops are valuable because there aren’t similar programs to offer educational opportunities for agricultural workers. The training targets a group of people not included in any formal education programs. It’s vital to train workers correctly because the agricultural workforce plays an important role in the prevention of food contamination. The Train the Trainers curriculum fills the education gap and supports good agricultural practices.

Considered essential, many farms remained open during COVID-19 despite challenging and evolving guidelines and regulations. For seven years, Train the Trainers Food Safety workshops were offered by the Healthy Plants and Bilingual Education Program at the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora.

Continuing the workshops during the pandemic was important to reach the owners, managers and trainers supervising new seasonal workers, who can range from a few up to several hundred per day in the height of the season.

In response, Luisa Santamaria, OSU Extension nursery pathology and bilingual agent, turned to new digital technology to keep them coming. The bilingual education program’s curriculum was adapted to a Zoom platform, and training continued to update important information for the agriculture sector about pandemic regulations. In 2020, Santamaria and her faculty research assistant hosted 10 three-hour workshops, five in English and five in Spanish. Though not required by law, farmers attend out of interest and willingness to learn and adapt current practices. There were 169 participants, representing growers, workers, crew leaders and labor contractors.

Some field trainers can teach more than 1,000 workers in the harvest season between May and August. Using a low average of 50 workers trained by each of the individuals attending the workshops, it can be conservatively estimated that about 8,000 people were reached with the research-based education guidelines and concepts offered in the classes.