Dec 21, 2020
LSU, state join to offer safety program to produce growers

The LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry are developing an information program on water testing and management to help specialty crop growers meet federal and market-driven requirements.

Led by Allison Dumas, LDAF agriculture specialist program manager for FSMA produce safety, and AgCenter food safety specialist Achuyt Adhikari, the program will target 200 Louisiana fruit and vegetable growers in improving the safety of their commodities.

“In our interactions with the local farmers and processors, we have found that large farms have the human capital and financial resources to undertake training and implement regulatory and market-driven food safety requirements related to water testing, but small and medium-sized farms have limited technical and financial resources to adopt such a system on their own,” Dumas said.

Louisiana produce growers participating in a water management safety program will receive a water analysis testing kit to help them meet safety regulations. Photo: Janny Mendoza

The program will roll out in January and provide information on the importance of safe use of agricultural water in growing, harvesting and handling fresh produce along with water analysis testing kits, free water analysis and recommendations on agricultural water quality mitigation practices.

“Not having small to midsize farms up to speed on compliance could leave the whole food chain safety system vulnerable, resulting in the unreliable and ineffective implementation of food safety programs and regulations,” Adhikari said.

The federal Food Safety Modernization Act requires farmers to take preventive measures against food safety risks. And while it exempts many smaller operations from various aspects of some rules, once the program is widespread, produce buyers will require the same safety procedures of all growers regardless of size.

“This has created a critical need for establishing water testing and sampling programs by focusing on small and mid-sized food systems, especially those that are growing, storing, processing and distributing fresh produce,” Adhikari said.

The AgCenter has a track record of successful food safety extension and outreach programs with several serving the needs of consumers and small-, medium- and large-size producers throughout the state.

Adhikari manages the AgCenter produce safety lab that provides environmental sampling, shelf-life studies, challenge studies and water-testing services to the food industry.

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, farmers must document their food safety efforts if they want to become certified for Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices, Adhikari said.

GAPs and GHPs are market-driven, voluntary practices farmers can implement to reduce food safety risks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture handles certification, which is required by many retail stores that buy fresh produce.

Participation in the new program will help fruit and vegetable growers increase their knowledge of food safety practices, Adhikari said. The technology focus will be on improving water used on fresh produce through water quality analysis.

LDAF and the AgCenter will conduct two-hour training sessions on agricultural water safety issues and proper water sampling techniques after which the 200 participating growers will receive a water analysis testing kit.

The participants will submit water samples from their farms to the AgCenter Produce Safety Lab for free analysis and then receive a technical consultation on the results with recommended mitigation steps as necessary.

The program is funded by a $59,370 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Photo at top: LSU AgCenter food safety specialist Achuyt Adhikari draws a sample from a water line in a demonstration garden. Photo: Karuna Kharel

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