Division of Agriculture to launch produce safety education campaign ahead of USDA, FDA inspections
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
July 20, 2018
- Food Safety Modernization Act intended to help prevent outbreaks of food-borne illness
- Training designed to help Arkansas farmers meet regulations, pass inspection
- Visit https://www.uaex.edu/arkansas-produce-safety to learn more.
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LITTLE ROCK – Over the last decade, news of widespread, food-borne illnesses, often connected with bacteria such as E.coli, has become more increasingly common. In March of this year, an outbreak of E.coli, eventually traced back to a farm in Yuma, Arizona — the country’s lettuce production capital — sickened more than 200 people in dozens of states, and caused at least five deaths, including one Arkansan.
The federal Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 created mandatory rules designed to reduce the risk of food safety incidents, shifting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s focus from reaction to prevention. Over the past several years, federal agencies have been working toward implementing various rules under the act, including the Product Safety Rule (PSR).
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is working to help educate Arkansas producers regarding standards and compliance requirements under the PSR. For the past year, the Division’s Food Systems and Safety team has worked with several farmers in the state (the nation’s largest farms — those producing more than $500,000 in food sales each year — were required to receive training certifications by January 2018). As the January 2019 training deadline approaches for the next tier of farms — those producing $250,000-$500,000 in food sales annually — the department is launching a workshop initiative designed to educate growers across the state on the new guidelines, and prepare them for future inspections.
Although farms making between $25,000-$250,000 in annual food sales won’t be required to receive training before January 2020, Food Systems and Safety team leader Amanda Philyaw Perez, extension food safety specialist and Assistant Professor for the Division of Agriculture, said small farm owners should consider attending training sooner in order to allow themselves more time to adjust practices.
“Farms should be trained so that they understand the risks inherent in food production, and what’s involved in preventing a public health contamination,” Perez said. “But it’s also important to their own viability as a business. If a food-borne illness is traced back to bad practices on their farm, a grower can be held legally liable.”
There are currently eight Arkansas Produce Safety training workshop scheduled in 2018:
- July 24: Bentonville
- Aug. 16: Jonesboro
- Aug. 21: Texarkana
- Sept. 5: Fort Smith
- Sept. 25: Malvern
- Oct. 9: Perryville
- Oct. 30: Eldorado
- Nov. 7: West Memphis
“Part of the training is to talk to farmers about what happened in the Yuma outbreak, among other examples,” Perez said. “During workshops that took place while that was happening, we mentioned what was going on, and used it as a jumping-off point to discuss the pathways that can cause contamination.
“What comes in contact with the produce is critical, whether it’s soil amendments or water, animal intrusions, or other things — they can all lead to potential problems,” she said. “We talk to them about how a field can become contaminated with E.coli and a number of other potential sources for contamination.”
The training is based on curricula developed by Cornell University and the Produce Safety Alliance, Perez said. In the fall, Perez and several department associates will offer on-farm readiness reviews, for producers who want to ensure they will pass inspections to be conducted by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. Growers interested in registering for an on-farm consultation can do so by visiting https://bit.ly/2uCgAfm.
A video explaining the implementation of the Product Safety Rule can be seen here: https://youtu.be/eN2mvEvwRLU.
To learn about food product safety in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit https://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/crops-commercial-horticulture/horticulture/arkansas-produce-safety.aspx.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service