Jan 27, 2017
Produce group debuts FSMA-compliant safety training

After a four-year curriculum development process, the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) officially launched Train-the-Trainer Courses and Grower Training Courses in fall 2016.

During the process, PSA drew together fruit and vegetable growers, educators, researchers and regulatory personnel to share currently available educational materials, convene 10 public working committees and conduct eight focus groups with diverse groups of produce farmers across the country.

In addition, PSA worked closely with FDA Division of Produce Safety staff to ensure the curriculum aligned with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR), as well as included Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

Based at Cornell University, PSA was established in 2010 to provide fundamental, on-farm food safety knowledge to growers.

Michigan State University (MSU) offered three pilot grower trainings in Michigan during November. More sessions are planned for early 2017. A session at MSU’s Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center attracted more than 30 participants on Nov. 10. Michigan’s grower training is sponsored by MSU Extension, Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, Michigan Farm Bureau and PSA.

Joanne Davidhizar, MSU Extension educator, said the day-long training courses addressing sound food safety and environmental practices satisfy the FSMA certification requirement.

The seven-part course provides a foundation for growers to identify and manage potential risks, develop a food safety plan and comply with the PSR. Upon completion, attendees are eligible for a certificate from the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). Under the rule, at least one responsible person from produce farms must take such a course.

Davidhizar said FSMA compliance deadlines are as follows, based on three-year average gross sales: Jan. 26, 2018: businesses with gross sales greater than $500,000; Jan 26, 2019: businesses with gross sales greater than $250,000, but less than $500,000; and Jan. 26, 2020: businesses with gross sales greater than $25,000 but less than $250,000. Farms that sell less than $25,000 worth of produce each year are exempt from the rules, and other exemptions may apply to some growers.

Before the compliance date, every covered farm that does not qualify for an exemption must have a supervisor complete a standardized food safety training program. The PSA Grower Training Course is one way to satisfy this requirement.

Elanor Starmer, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service administrator, said four years of development have gone into the Grower Training Course, which provides eight hours of instruction in on-farm and packinghouse GAPs, on-farm environmental coordinated management (known as “co- management”), and other preventive controls. The course also satisfies the PSR requirement that at least one supervisor or responsible party on a farm has successfully completed food safety training recognized as adequate by FDA.

The Train-The-Trainer Course includes eight hours of core training and an additional eight hours of training techniques and principles of adult learning and partnering opportunities. Completion of this course will certify a PSA Trainer who is qualified to teach PSA Grower Training under the direction of a PSA Lead Trainer. PSA created the course to build a network of certified trainers across the nation.

“USDA is committed to making sure that all growers and producers – regardless of size or style of operation – have the support and resources they need to help keep America’s food supply one of the safest in the world,” Starmer said.

PSA stresses that even if operations are excluded or exempted from FSMA, they should consider participation in the PSA Grower Training because it has valuable information. In addition, some buyers may require growers to follow the PSR requirements whether or not they’re subject to them.

“The PSA Grower Training provides foundational knowledge of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule requirements, how the requirements may impact current GAPs that growers have already implemented, and information on how to develop a farm food safety plan,” a PSA news release stated. “Even though a farm food safety plan is not required by the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, this module is included in the training because growers in the PSA Working Committees and focus groups identified a farm food safety plan as a valuable part of understanding and implementing produce safety practices on the farm.”

Organizers said there has been great interest in individuals wanting to attend the two-day PSA Train-the-Trainer Courses to become PSA Trainers or PSA Lead Trainers.

“No one will be turned away from attending the PSA Train-the-Trainer Course, but course availability may be limited by location and host,” PSA stated.

The PSA Grower Training curriculum is designed to meet grower needs and be delivered in one day. Modules 1 through 6 align with sections outlined in the PSR. Module 7 is focused on helping growers develop a written farm food safety plan. Even though a farm food safety plan is not required in the PSR, it is included
in the curriculum because growers expressed a need for a plan in focus groups and as part of the working committees, according to PSA.

PSA training modules include: introduction to produce safety; worker health, hygiene and training; soil amendments; wildlife, domesticated animals and land use; production and postharvest water; postharvest handling and sanitation; and how to develop a farm food safety plan.

In order to effectively provide produce safety information, educational resources and technical assistance to an estimated 186,000 fruit and vegetable farms across the country, PSA currently has collaborations in 42 states from land-grant universities, the produce industry, regulatory offices and grower organizations.

“(Food safety) risks can be found in things that come into contact with fresh produce, such as soil, water and workers’ hands,” said Betsy Bihn, a senior Extension associate for Cornell University in the Department of Food Science and who directs the PSA. “The purpose of the Produce Safety Alliance is to help growers reduce whatever risks there may be and make produce as safe as it can be.”

Bihn said the new rules will empower FDA to conduct on-farm inspections, much as they already do for food processing plants and restaurants.

“They’ll be looking for things like proper application of manure, bathroom and sanitation facilities for workers, and appropriate worker training to ensure proper sanitation practices occur in fields and packinghouses,” Bihn said. “There are also provisions requiring farmers to test water that comes into contact with fresh produce if that water comes from a source other than a municipal water source.”

Producers who have questions about whether they are exempt or covered by FSMA requirements may consult the Produce Safety Alliance FSMA information page or the FDA key FSMA requirements page. An operation that produces a crop that is rarely consumed raw, is processed with a kill step and/or has sales less than $25,000 are among those that may be exempt.

The Produce Safety Rule focuses on setting the first-ever federal regulatory standards for the production, harvest and handling of fruits and vegetables in an effort to prevent microbial contamination and reduce foodborne illnesses associated with fresh produce. PSR was published in the Federal Register on Nov. 27, 2015.

The Sprout Safety Alliance, based at the Illinois Institute of Technology, is developing a core curriculum, training and outreach programs for stakeholders in the sprout production community to enhance the industry’s understanding and implementation of best practices for improving sprout safety, and requirements for sprout producers included in the PSR.

For more information about PSA, visit http://producesafetyalliance.cornell.edu.

Train the Grower session schedule for early 2017:

  • Feb. 7 – Live Oak, Florida
  • Feb. 8 – Cockeysville, Maryland
  • Feb. 9 – Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • Feb. 13 – Marianna, Florida
  • Feb. 15 – Murfreesboro, Tennessee
  • Feb. 21 – Athens, Georgia
  • Feb. 22 – Santa Cruz, California
  • Feb. 22-23 – Trenton, New Jeryey
  • March 1-2 – Rosenhayn, New Jersey
  • March 8 – Keedysville, Maryland
  • March 8-9 – Chatsworth, New Jersey
  • March 22-23 – Flemington, New Jersey

Gary Pullano, associate editor


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