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Training fruit and vegetable farmers on food safety

A produce farmer
A produce farmer washes his hands before harvesting.

University of Minnesota Extension’s food safety team helps produce farmers understand new federal rules on preventing foodborne illness.

This year, University of Minnesota Extension educators will help hundreds of Minnesota’s fruit and vegetable growers put new food safety rules into action, thanks to the first overhaul of the United States’ food safety system in more than 70 years. “For the first time, some of those good food safety practices farmers have done voluntarily are now required,” says Annalisa Hultberg, University of Minnesota Extension food safety and horticultural systems educator.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), passed by Congress in 2011, is designed to shift the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) focus from reacting to food poisoning outbreaks to preventing food safety issues connected with growing, harvesting and processing produce for human consumption. Hultberg will use a science-based curriculum developed by the FDA to educate growers in Minnesota.

“While we have been training farmers on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for many years, the FSMA is new. We will be at every winter grower conference along with our partners leading information sessions on food safety and the new regulation,” says Hultberg. “We want to help farmers understand the benefits of food safety as well as help them to be in compliance with the law.”

FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule requires some basic food safety practices on the farm, such as cleaning of tools and equipment to reduce chances of contamination, taking measures to control domestic and wild animals, proper handling of raw manure and compost, good worker health and hygiene practices, and water quality standards and testing. The new regulations affect farmers with three-year average annual gross produce sales of more than $25,000, except those with qualified exemptions.

A field of vegetables
A field of vegetables stand ready for harvest. Leafy greens top the list of foods that become contaminated and make people sick.

The goal is to reduce foodborne illness, like the 2011 outbreak of listeria from contaminated cantaloupes which resulted in the deaths of 33 people across 28 states. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million Americans a year (roughly one in six) become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from preventable foodborne illnesses.

“Every state is rolling this out right now,” says Hultberg. “Farmers need to know FSMA is not intended to be expensive or difficult to implement. The regulations are written to be flexible to match the size of the farm and to enhance basic food safety.”

Hultberg says growers can turn the regulations into something that not only benefits their farm, but could help them meet the requirements for wholesale marketing. “All farmers want to grow healthy, safe food,” she says. “I’m encouraging smaller vegetable and fruit growers who are interested in learning about good food safety practices as well as FSMA to attend a training session.”

Extension’s partners in this effort to educate farmers include the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Produce Safety Alliance, Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, and Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association.

FSMA grower training sessions in Minnesota are scheduled for Jan. 17, 2018 in St. Cloud and March 20, 2018 in Monticello. Visit Minnesota Department of Agriculture for information and registration.

Learn more at Extension's GAPS education program website.

A U of M Extension field day
A U of M Extension field day held at See Fit farm in Lakeville, Minn., brought fruit and vegetable farmers together to build low-cost handwashing and vegetable-washing stands for use on their farms. A

 

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