Jul 13, 2021
North Carolina State University debuts new Produce Handling Facility

North Carolina  agricultural interests have invested in a facility that supports research and Extension programs focusing in research data collection and postharvest technologies for the produce industry.

Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center Produce Handling Facility will be the site of a grand opening on July 20 at 2 p.m.

In recognition of the investments made by all stakeholders and the value of this facility for research and produce safety education, the grand opening event with North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton will be held at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center ,74 Research Drive Mills River, NC 28759.

According to a news release, in 2016, researchers at North Carolina (NC) State’s Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center (MHCREC) in Mills River identified a critical need to modernize fruit and vegetable data collection equipment at MHCREC. Existing equipment was antiquated, imprecise, incompatible with non-spherical fruit and did not adhere to modern food safety standards. MHCREC houses apple, tomato and the alternative crops teams that grow and harvest large amounts of fresh produce annually for research data collection and knowledge transfer.

A team of 11 NC State University faculty members submitted a successful proposal to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Dean’s Faculty Enrichment Fund for purchase of a modern fruit sorting line. Parallel to this effort, funds from FDA administered through the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were leveraged to support purchase of the new sorting line and additional complementary equipment.

The NC Agricultural Research Service, NC State Extension, MHCREC and faculty cooperators committed additional funds to renovate an existing 3,150 square foot facility to become the new Produce Handling Facility. Direct and indirect investments of approximately $850,000 have been made in this facility. Renovations of the facility began in the fall of 2020 and were completed in the spring of 2021.

Over the past 10 years, produce farmers across North Carolina have experienced greater expectations from buyers to implement food safety practices to minimize risks of food borne illness and outbreaks due to microbial contamination. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and Produce Safety Rule came into effect in 2018 in NC and now requires that most farms implement food safety practices and are subject to inspection when growing, harvesting, packing and holding fresh produce.

Since 2016, NCSU’s Produce Safety Team has offered numerous educational programs that have been delivered primarily in classrooms due to the lack of adequate facilities to demonstrate practices, which limited the ability to demonstrate new technologies and to illustrate problems in packing areas which are often the primary harbor site for pathogens that lead to outbreaks.

This new facility will allow for more effective fresh produce safety education for growers. Moving forward, the Produce Handling Facility will serve as a training hub for food safety, and also to validate and apply new technologies that can improve post-harvest management, efficiency and safety of fresh produce in NC.

Hands-on training and development of training videos that will be made available through the NC Fresh Produce Safety Portal will be supported through this facility. For research teams, this facility and equipment will 1) increase productivity and efficiency of research programs, 2) enhance the quality of information that is disseminated to stakeholders regarding orchard/field and post-harvest management decisions, and 3) increase support from partners in industry. Future additional enhancements are planned for the facility to further support these objectives.

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