Thursday, July 1, 2010

MSU resources for fresh produce growers

As food systems become more globalized, the need for traceability and food safety in fresh produce becomes even more important. With country of origin labeling requirements, the recent foodborne pathogen outbreaks and a continuing demand on the part of the consumer to know who specifically grew their food, retailers are quickly adopting standards to ensure a safe and traceable food supply. The goal of traceability is to be able to quickly find from what country, what farm, even which field, a particular piece of produce originated.

In an effort to help growers through the process of implementing Good Agricultural Practices, Michigan State University Extension has trained a number of Extension Educators throughout the state to help walk individuals through the process. The hope is that these educators can answer questions and help growers inexpensively to reduce certification costs from several thousand dollars to several hundred dollars. Find e-mail links to Agrifood Safety Educators at www.gaps.msue.msu.edu/contact.htm.

A number of training aids are available to help you in educating your farm workers. An effective worker training video is available from the National GAPs program at Cornell. It covers all the points you need to cover to be GAP Compliant. Extension Offices in Michigan with an Agrifood Safety Educator are equipped with a limited supply of this worker training video. The video can be borrow-ed from these offices. If you would like to buy your own copy, a link to the National GAPs Program Website can be found on the ”GAP Resources for Growers” page of the Agrifood Safety Workgroup website.

Growers have also had difficulty crafting GAP language and finding resources to guide them through the process. In an effort to help them, MSU Extension offers the Agrifood Safety Minute, a weekly web program that will discuss an aspect of GAPs in depth and offer guidance on how to get it implemented on the farm. You can find these episodes at www.gaps.msu.edu/afsm.htm.

Federal and State laws around this important issue are very fluid. As of this writing, it is unclear whether the Federal government’s proposed rules will be more stringent than a retail industry imposed third party standard. In addition, as retailers work through implementing these standards they will migrate to a more uniform standard. To find out more about this emerging topic, feel free to email MSU Extension and these specially trained educators for the latest information at gaps@msu.edu or join our discussion on Facebook.