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Keeping food safe from the farm to the table

Published: 05/15/2019 10:02AM
By: fordlatasha

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Specialty crop growers participate in a recent Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training at Fort Valley State University’s Agricultural Technology Conference Center.

Fruit and vegetable growers received firsthand knowledge on the actions they can take to help protect consumers’ health.

During a recent Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training at Fort Valley State University’s Agricultural Technology Conference Center, more than 10 participants learned about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce safety rule and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

The seven-hour course included presentations by agricultural professionals representing the Georgia Department of Agriculture, National Farmers Union of the Local Food Safety Collaborative and the University of Georgia on record keeping, worker health and hygiene, soil amendments and postharvest handling.

Calvin Daniels of Connections on the Parkway Inc., a nonprofit organization in Centerville, Georgia, said the training gave him more insight on the risks of contamination. A manager for two years, Daniels said the nonprofit maintains a community farm, with 10 tower systems consisting of collard greens, kale, cabbage, cucumbers and peppers.

Daniels attended the training because his chief executive officer saw the opportunity for him to learn better practices that he can take back to the facility. “Knowledge is always good to improve your outlook on growing things in life. If you’re dealing with the community, knowledge is so important,” he said.

In addition, Wesley Wilson of Wilson Berry Farms in Bristol, Georgia, traveled to Fort Valley to learn more about how he can improve his record keeping. Four years in business, the blueberry farmer said he keeps a record of his spray logs, training logs and farm inspections. After recently undergoing an audit, he knows all too well the importance of maintaining these records.

“Record keeping is the biggest thing you have to keep up with. If you don’t have accountability, it can hurt whatever industry you’re in,” Wilson said. Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, coordinator and professor of FVSU’s Agricultural Economics Program, and Dr. Duncan Chembezi, agricultural economics professor and director of the Small Farms Research Center at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, hosted the training through the Food Safety Outreach Competitive Grant Program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded Duncan $450,000 (2017-70020-27253) for his project, “Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Education and GAP Training Targeting Small and Limited Resource Specialty Crop Growers.” Ibrahim, who serves as the co-principal investigator, received $60,000 from the grant. The project targets farmers in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

Ibrahim said the purpose of the training is to educate farmers about the importance of food safety practices, record keeping and staying abreast of the FSMA. Duncan commended Ibrahim for the strong partnership. We’re making sure our food is of high quality,” Duncan said. “We must start looking at food safety from the farm all the way to the table.”

The USDA-NIFA Food Safety Outreach Competitive Grant Program provides funding for food safety training and education for small and mid-sized producers and processors affected by the FSMA. For more information about the Food Safety Outreach Program, visit https://bit.ly/1r4TdXN.