N.C. State develops Mobile Hand-washing Units

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

Larger and smaller capacity versions were developed, allowing for use in commercial farm fields or farmers markets. Construction costs for a hand-washing station will vary (because they're meant to be customized), but ballpark costs will likely be around $2,000, minus a transport trailer.

The effort began in 2008 with plans to design and build a more functional, portable hand-washing station that N.C. 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 N.C. Cooperative Extension outreach of N.C. State's Plants for Human Health Institute, and Dr. Gary Roberson, N.C. 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 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 that 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 theirlocal N.C. Cooperative Extension centerwith 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.

For more information visit the NC State University site here.

image courtesy of NC State University.

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