USDA Grant funds Ag food safety research

Tyler Prochazka

Even with the rise of farmers markets around the country and in Kentucky, there has been a lack of understanding concerning the safety of this produce. Now, WKU faculty members have been given the opportunity to shed light on this often overlooked agricultural sector. 

John Khouryieh, assistant professor of food processing and technology in the Architectural and Manufacture Sciences Departments, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to research the safety of locally grown produce sold at farmers markets.

The data collected from this research will be unique because of its specific focus, according to Khouryieh.


“No study has been done on small farmers markets in Kentucky,” Khouryieh said.

The grant will have six WKU professors across several disciplines working on the research. 

Khouryieh, who is the principal investigator of the research, said the initial idea came from his academic work and because of the USDA’s priority for food safety.

“As a food scientist, I thought I should do something about produce safety,” he said.

The amount of the grant is over $200,000 and will be used to survey farmers, conduct lab research of the produce and craft educational modules to train small farmers. 

Martin Stone, associate professor of agriculture, is a contributor to the research. He said that the first component will be to survey small farmers around the state, and the collection of this data has already begun.

Stone said the questionnaire will find out how Kentucky farmers handle their produce.

“We have tried to spread it out on different regions of the state and different sizes of markets,” Stone said.

Stone said this will help the researchers find out whether or not safety procedures are being followed by small farmers.

The second component will analyze produce purchased from farmers markets around the state in the laboratory.

Stone said he will focus on the educational modules for the small farmers that will be presented and available online for free.

“The third part takes the first two parts and what we found when we tested and put together a series of educational models to present at the state farming conference or the state agricultural conference,” Stone said. 

Khouryieh said the educational modules will demonstrate to small farmers how to control food-borne pathogens on their produce.

“Our vision is to improve the safety for farmers markets across the state,” Khouryieh said.

However, Khouryieh pointed out that this issue not only affects these farmers markets, but also everyone else around the state because of its potential to spread illness. 

“The study is very important for everybody because we are focusing on something that is important to our lives,” Khouryieh said.