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An partnership between the Produce Marketing Association, Sysco Corp. and PrimusLabs.com is providing much-needed produce food safety training to small growers across America to help them increase their produce sales. Local growers, including PMA members and those interested in doing business with Sysco, can receive training via a series of workshops held around the country. The workshops are designed to help growers understand current food safety demands, how to meet them and how to navigate food safety requirements. The sessions are led by PMA food safety experts with the assistance of representatives from Sysco and PrimusLabs.com. More than 40 people attended the first workshop Aug. 11 in Portland, OR, and future workshops are scheduled for Oct. 13 in Orlando, FL, Nov. 10 in Southern California and early December in the Midwest.

Each workshop addresses the modern reality of food safety mandates, what a food safety program should look like and how to build a solid food safety program. Attendees also get tips from a number of third-party auditing organizations on how to prepare for Good Agricultural Practices audits and follow-up steps after an audit.

At the first workshop, the audience heard from auditing professionals from PrimusLabs, NSF and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The workshops close with guidance on how to proceed, and where to go for help when additional resources are needed. The Portland workshop featured Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for PMA; Johnna Hepner, director of food safety and foodservice specialist for PMA; Stacy Stoltenberg director of food safety for PrimusLabs.com; and Rich Dachman, Sysco's vice president of produce. A local grower, distributor and chef also participated. "Even though everyone is stressing local produce, it's still a world market - we have to give the public a safe product and we have to be accountable," said Rod Liepold of Liepold Farms in Boring, OR. "I attended because we are trying to be proactive and get into this business quickly, but eventually everyone will need to do it. This session was informative and gave us options." The workshop series was collaboratively designed by PMA, Sysco and PrimusLabs. "It's about offering our customers choices - they want local food -- and Sysco's responsibility is to source local food that has also been grown under safe, strict growing and harvesting conditions," said Sysco Vice President of Agricultural Sustainability Craig Watson. "We chose PMA as our partner because they share our passion for helping local growers grow safe food," said Mr. Dachman. "It was remarkable to see the transition of attendees from being skeptical of our food safety requirements to actually being excited to get back to the farm and get started." "PMA is committed to bringing real-world solutions to our industry's food safety needs to all produce operators, no matter the size, but we know small growers in particular can face a hard time accessing the information and resources they need," said Dr. Whitaker. "Meanwhile, demand for locally grown produce has significantly increased, creating a big need for this kind of educational programming that we are proud to help meet." Dr. Whitaker noted that this small grower outreach is part of PMA's overall food safety program, which includes industry education, advocacy, knowledge and outreach. For example, PMA founded the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis and its international research program to help answer industry's most pressing food safety questions.