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Growing our Generation: Food safety and security, from farm to fork

Hello Ohio Farm Bureau members! I’m Abby Snyder and, although I’m currently finishing my PhD program at Cornell University in upstate New York, I’m originally from southern Ohio. I grew up on a small farm in Ross County where we raised cattle and chickens, which were my FFA and 4H projects, in addition to corn and soybeans.

My current work focuses on food microbiology. I work with a lot of farmers and small businesses looking to produce food safely, free from pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. My research focus is in food quality, which deals with issues like spoilage, reducing food waste, and increasing food security. It has been estimated that around 40 percent of the global food supply is wasted. That means 40 percent of the time, energy, and resources that farmers put into producing food is also wasted. I work to change that.

Education and outreach
Education and outreach are some of the most rewarding parts of my job. In this picture, kindergartners are using dried bees (which we glued to Q-tips) to transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma in a lesson called “Seeds, Bees, and Flowers.”

Each year, I teach several hundred kids (early childhood through college age) in various workshops through 4H, FFA, food science departments in New York and Ohio, and the Ohio Soybean Council’s GrowNextGen program. Here’s a link to my teacher leader page, And here’s a link to the curriculum I have written with my partner, Colin Day: Soybean Ink and Salad Dressing, Fermented Foods Workshop and Soy in Food.

Fungal food spoilage
Food spoilage is such a waste! If you’ve ever found something fuzzy and gross-looking growing on your yogurt, berries, bread – almost anything – you have experienced fungal food spoilage.

Fungi, yeast and molds, are very resilient spoilage microbes. They are even able to grow and spoil foods which have been specifically formulated and processed to resist spoilage. But don’t worry, spoilage is a quality issue. Most of these fungi won’t make you sick, besides maybe triggering a gag reflex!

Food safety starts on the farm
Colin works as a horticulturist and grows thousands of berry plants each year as part of his role in the university’s small fruits breeding program. I mainly work with fruit and vegetable processed products like juice, jams, fermented vegetables, sauces, and pickles so my involvement really begins post-harvest. This combination has given us an interesting perspective on food safety management throughout the supply chain.

A recent example of the importance of food safety starting on the farm is the recall of E. coli contaminated General Mills flour.

Because flour is usually cooked before consumption, we have not focused on food pathogens to the same extent that we have in products which are often consumed fresh, like produce.

However, this outbreak demonstrates where that logic falls apart.

Helping small food producers make safe, quality products
As part of my work as an Extension assistant at Cornell, I helped write scheduled processes for over 300 unique products in the Food Venture Center.

The FVC helps thousands of small businesses each year by ensuring their recipes for shelf stable products like jam, dried sausage, and sauces will help guarantee a safe and quality product.

Clients send in a sample of their product so we can analyze it as well. You can see we are often quite busy!


This blog is from Snyder’s turn as featured editor of the Growing Our Generation e-newsletter.  Browse the archive of past issues.

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This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a new discounted category for those 18-24 years old.

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Abby Snyder is a PhD student at at Cornell University. She grew up on a small farm in Ross County which produced cattle, chickens, corn and soybeans. Her current work focuses on food microbiology.