As food safety issues continue to garner national attention, North Carolina State University is helping farmers in the state take steps to manage food safety risks.

North Carolina State has developed two portable hand-washing station prototypes as customizable models for local growers in an effort to help them provide quality hand-washing facilities in their fields and at their market stalls.

The effort began in 2008 with plans to design and build a more functional, portable hand-washing station that North Carolina growers could use as a model for building their own versions.

The original, larger prototype was constructed for commercial use in farm fields, but grower feedback during field tests in 2010 underscored the need for a second, smaller hand-washing unit that would be easier to deploy, more cost-efficient to construct and practical to use at farmers markets.

Rod Gurganus, director of N.C. MarketReady, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension outreach of North Carolina State’s Plants for Human Health Institute, and Gary Roberson, North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist in agricultural engineering, led the effort to develop the hand-washing stations with a $24,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center’s Agricultural Advancement Consortium.

“Food safety starts on the farm, so it’s essential that our growers have access to adequate, affordable hand-washing facilities for use in the field and at direct points of sale, like farmers markets,” said Gurganus. “These hand-washing station prototypes were developed to help growers better reduce food safety risks associated with crop harvesting and customer interactions.”

Gurganus and Roberson took into account farmer feedback, construction costs and functionality when developing the prototypes. Generic, widely available forms of materials, like water storage tanks, plumbing parts and transport trailers, were used to give farmers more flexibility during construction.

Construction costs for a hand-washing station are estimated at around $2,000, minus the support trailer or wagon, but costs may vary either way depending on factors like brand of parts, quantity and accessories.

“Knowing resources differ from operation to operation, we developed our hand-washing station prototypes to support customization, which can help limit costs while meeting individual needs,” said Gurganus. “While one farming operation may decide to build a $4,000 hand-washing facility, another operation may be able to construct a facility that meets their needs for under $2,000.”

Potential custom additions can include items like waste receptacles, steps/ramps, towel racks and various soap dispensers. Growers are encouraged to consult with their local North Carolina Cooperative Extension center http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/index.php?page=countycenters with questions about the structural integrity of their hand-washing station.

Design details and guidelines for constructing the hand-washing units — including phase-by-phase photos — are available on the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Portal http://ncsu.edu/enterprises/ncfreshproducesafety/hand-washing-unit/.

The North Carolina State University Plants for Human Health Institute is part of the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. Its Cooperative Extension outreach is known as N.C. MarketReady.

The campus is a public-private venture including eight universities, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) and corporate entities that collaborate to advance the fields of nutrition and health.

Learn more at http://plantsforhumanhealth.ncsu.edu.