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Federal government, Cornell to roll out food-safety training as FDA drafts new federal rules

by Joan Murphy | November 09, 2010
WASHINGTON -- With the industry bracing for proposed federal growing standards for fresh produce next year, the Food & Drug Administration announced Nov. 4 a new public-private partnership that will supply growers and packers with on-the-farm training materials.

The new Produce Safety Alliance is a three-year, $1.15 million partnership funded by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and housed at Cornell University, which already runs a Good Agricultural Practices program, FDA said.

"As we traveled around the country listening to growers and packers and soliciting their comments even before we propose a produce safety rule, we have committed ourselves to just this kind of collaborative effort," FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor in a press statement. “We also know that small growers and packers are especially interested in the kind of hands- on training and support envisioned by the alliance.”

“What growers and packers want is science-based information they can use in the fields and the packinghouses to improve food-safety practices in practical ways,” Betsy Bihn, coordinator of Cornell University's National GAPs Program, added in the statement. “Our goal is to meet that need today and down the road as FDA moves forward in its rulemaking process.”

The alliance will be run by a steering committee with representatives from the Association of Food & Drug Officials, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, land grant universities, growers and shippers, produce trade organizations, FDA, Cornell University and the USDA.

Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, applauded the new group and suggested that LGMA be invited to participate in the steering committee

“The objectives of this new initiative are in line with those of the LGMA,” said Jamie Strachan, a grower-shipper of leafy greens who is chairman the LGMA Advisory Board. “We share a commitment with the Produce Safety Alliance to ensuring compliance with food-safety practices on the farm and we believe this can best be accomplished through a strong collaboration between industry and government.”

The Arizona leafy greens industry also recognizes that food-safety training is critical in the field and unveiled its own program the same day FDA announced the Produce Safety Alliance.

The Arizona Leafy Greens consortium is rolling out an initiative to educate field workers in safe food-handling practices with a uniform set of guidelines that breaks new ground in the leafy greens industry.

"Since the formal inception of this program in 2007, our third-party audits have revealed that most of the infractions happen at the field level," said Vicki-Lynne Scott, technical subcommittee chairperson and board member of the Arizona Leafy Greens Products Shipper Marketing Agreement. "We developed a program that really drives home the importance of safety training while keeping in mind the very different cultural attributes of Hispanic workers, which make up the majority of those in the field."

The Food Safety Training Kit is a bilingual food-safety training program aimed at employees in the leafy greens industry developed by Sergio Nieto- Montenegro of El Paso, TX-based Hispanic Workforce Management.

"This is an easy to use program that can be used by anyone who is responsible for training employees," said Mr. Nieto-Montenegro. "It can be taught in a training room with a Powerpoint, or using a flip chart on the tailgate of a truck."