Commentary: Partnership offers produce safety training for farmers


Issue Date: May 17, 2017
By Bryan Little
Bryan Little
To help farmers comply with the Produce Safety Rule under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, a cooperative effort called the Food Safety Training Partnership will offer day-long training sessions. The partnership has scheduled five trainings in California this spring.

Food safety has always been the No. 1 concern of California farmers and ranchers. In addition to developing practices that successfully protect food safety, farmers must now comply with a new Produce Safety Rule being implemented under federal law. A cooperative effort called the Food Safety Training Partnership will help California farmers comply.

Created by the Farm Employers Labor Service, California Farm Bureau Federation and Safe Food Alliance, the training effort will work specifically on produce safety training designed to assist growers in complying with the Produce Safety Rule under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

Congress passed FSMA in 2010 in response to public concern about food-borne illnesses. CFBF believes the law has many flaws, and we are working diligently with the new administration and Congress to make the law more science-based and attuned to farming realities. As a matter of Farm Bureau policy, we support voluntary food-safety practices instead of government mandates.

But farmers also abide by the law—even rules and regulations that often don't make practical sense. FSMA gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate the food system to prevent food safety problems. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule is final now, and compliance will be required as of January 2018.

The standard generally establishes minimum requirements for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and storage of produce on farms, intended to minimize the possibility of food-borne illnesses. The standard deals with various aspects including water quality; biological soil amendments; managing wild and domestic animals in and near production areas; training, health and hygiene for employees handling food; and use and maintenance of equipment, tools and buildings.

Beginning this month and next, the Food Safety Training Partnership will offer training designed by the Produce Safety Alliance, as described and approved by the FDA. The one-day sessions, created to help meet FDA requirements, will provide a foundational understanding of the contents of the Produce Safety Rule, including required programs and records and recommended best practices, which are based on existing "good agricultural practices" or GAP programs.

The Produce Safety Rule requires that for each farm, "At least one supervisor or responsible party for your farm must have successfully completed food safety training at least equivalent to that received under standardized curriculum recognized as adequate by the Food and Drug Administration." The Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Course that our training partnership will mirror is one way to satisfy this requirement; it is the only course currently recognized by the FDA.

The experts offering the Food Safety Training Partnership Produce Safety Rule training have all received Produce Safety Alliance Lead Trainer training and are qualified to deliver the curriculum to produce growers. The train-the-trainer course includes principles of adult learning, discusses how to form training partnerships and provides information to guide trainers on teaching concepts related to GAP and the FSMA produce safety standards.

The training will be offered over approximately seven hours of instruction time, covering content in seven modules:

  • Introduction to produce safety;
  • Worker health, hygiene and training;
  • Soil amendments;
  • Wildlife, domesticated animals and land use;
  • Agricultural water, focused on both production and postharvest uses;
  • Postharvest handling and sanitation;
  • How to develop a farm food safety plan.

Key parts of the Produce Safety Rule requirements are outlined in each module, in addition to learning about best practices in produce safety.

The course will provide a foundation of good agricultural practices, FSMA Produce Safety Rule requirements, and details on how to develop a farm food safety plan.

After attending the entire course, participants will be eligible to receive a certificate from the Association of Food and Drug Officials that verifies they have completed the training course. To receive an AFDO certificate, a participant must be present for the entire training and submit the appropriate paperwork to his or her trainer at the end of the course.

In addition to the standard curriculum, trainees will be provided additional resources including:

  • A decision tree and other materials to help determine how or if the regulation applies to a particular farm;
  • Templates for creating records required by the training;
  • A calculation tool to aid a small farm in determining if it receives a "qualified exemption";
  • A list of allowable water treatment compounds provided by the Produce Safety Alliance;
  • Tools to assist in conducting water analysis calculations.

The partnership has scheduled five trainings this spring, and will offer additional sessions as grower interest in the training requires. Trainings are scheduled: May 25 at the Yolo County Farm Bureau in Woodland; June 8 at the Hyatt Regency Monterey; June 15 at the Farm Credit Center in Imperial; June 20 at Durham Memorial Hall in Durham; and June 21 at Spike N Rail in Selma. All trainings are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will include lunch and extensive compliance assistance materials. The cost of the training is $285.

Participants can register for all trainings, and learn more about the partnership and the trainings, at foodsafetytrainingpartnership.com or by calling 916-561-5672.

(Bryan Little is CEO of the Farm Employers Labor Service and director of employment policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.