Andy Bary is a soil scientist who manages the organic farm at Washington State University’s Puyallup research station south of Seattle.
Although the farm is primarily used for research, its crops are sold or donated to a local food bank. So when Bary decided to identify areas in which he and his staff could improve or update their food handling operations, he put his farm through an audit and Good Agricultural Practices–commonly called GAP–workshop this past summer.
Based on the recommendations from the WSU experts, the Puyallup farm workers changed the way they wash their hands and sanitize the crates used to store the produce, Bary said.
Washington State University is one of many institutions helping farmers to understand the science behind food safety recommendations by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators and how they can improve food safety on their farms, said Karen Killinger, an assistant professor at WSU’s school of food science.
As offered by WSU, Killinger explains, the workshop is divided into two separate sessions designed to help farmers meet the third-party food safety certification requirements that an increasing number of produce buyers are demanding. WSU does not provide certification but will perform mock certification audits to help farmers prepare for a real one.
In that way, “we help farmers sell their product to a larger number of buyers,” Killinger said.
The workshops focus on some of the most common challenges farmers face in making food production safe, Killinger said, including:
— Water irrigation safety, because some farmers, especially those who must use open-source water, do not have control over the irrigation water they use.
— Amending soil to improve plant growth and manure management, learning how long to wait between applying manure and harvesting crops, Killinger said.
— Worker health and hygiene issues, making sure farm workers thoroughly wash their hands and do not handle food if they have symptoms of a foodborne illness.
— Storage and distribution sanitation, helping farmers to be aware of the sanitary manner in which harvested food crops must be stored before sale or distribution.
Even Bary, a pro when it comes to compost and other aspects of agriculture, said he benefitted from the audit. Not only did it identify places where the farm needed to make a few changes, but it reassured him that things are being correctly. After all, “I don’t want to make anyone sick who eats my produce,” he said.
For more information visit http://foodsafety.wsu.edu/.