Fresh Produce Food Safety Courses To Be Held 8/30 & 9/27
As growers, we all need to make the safety of the foods we sell a top priority. Our customers, whether local or distant, deserve the best and safest foods we can possibly produce. Problems with the safety of some fresh-produce items in recent years have made headlines and caused sales of the suspected produce to plummet, whether the produce was really a cause of illness (e.g. – Spinach contaminated by E. coli in 2006) or not (the US-grown Tomatoes initially suspected in the 2008 Salmonella outbreak were not contaminated, yet tomato growers lost nearly $130 million in sales that year).
Growers can be aware of these issues, yet not paralyzed by fear or the threat of lawsuits. The keys to success are education, preparation, and implementing fresh produce food safety practices on your farm. Some growers may also need to obtain third-party certifications such as GAP (Good Agricultural Practices). But long before pursuing any outside certification, a grower should learn the practices that enhance food safety and put them into practice.
The New River Headwaters Area Alternative Agriculture Program and partners within Cooperative Extension will offer a series of classes to guide growers through evaluating and improving their own fresh produce food safety practices in August and September 2011. Field to Family is a new N.C. Cooperative Extension program developed to educate fruit and vegetable growers about measures to minimize food safety risks. The training focuses on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and managing risks from field to market. The training consists of nine modules, broken into Tier 1 and Tier 2, addressing specific areas of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) that together provide a comprehensive curriculum developed by leading researchers and Cooperative Extension specialists at N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University.
The Tier 1 Food Safety Course will be offered at the Ashe County Cooperative Extension Center on Tuesday, August 30, 2011, from 10:00 AM through 6:00 PM. This course will cover the basics of ‘Fresh Produce Food Safety Issues and Considerations for Small Farms,’ ‘Implementing Fresh Produce Food Safety Practices on Your Small Farm,’ ‘Developing a Fresh Produce Food Safety Plan for Your Small Farm,’ and an introduction to ‘GAP certifications and Food Safety Audits – Does Your Farm Need Them?’
NC Fresh Produce Safety Task Force will then conduct the Tier 2 N.C. MarketReady training workshop at 8:30-5:00, on Tuesday, September 27th, at the Watauga County Agricultural Conference Center, 252 Poplar Grove Rd. Boone, NC 28607. Building upon the Tier 1 lessons, Tier 2 will address risk identification and management issues including transportation and traceability, product recalls, liability and insurance options, and developing a crisis strategy. Any grower considering GAP certification, whether due to buyer demand or other risk-management considerations, should plan to enroll in both the August and September courses. These courses will not be offered again in the region for quite some time!
These workshops will benefit not only growers and packinghouse managers, but also wholesalers and transportation managers who all play an integral role in maintaining the safety of fresh produce as it moves from the field to the consumer. Currently, GAPs certification is voluntary for North Carolina farmers, though outbreaks of food-borne illness in other parts of the country have resulted in increased pressure for all farmers to become certified.
The development of the N.C. MarketReady Fresh Produce Safety – Field to Family Initiative was funded with grants from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), NC Rural Economic Development Center and USDA Risk Management Agency. N.C. Cooperative Extension faculty developed these resources as part of the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force.
N.C. Cooperative Extension is an educational outreach of N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University. It has programs in all 100 counties and the Cherokee Reservation. This course is co-sponsored by the Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant through the Appalachian District Health Department and US Department of Health and Human Services.
Growers wanting further information on Fresh Produce Food Safety issues, concerns, and these upcoming classes can call the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Center at 828-264-3061.