As Penn State’s College of Agricultural Science sees it, “the ‘locavore’ movement is growing and those locavores are increasingly demanding assurances that their produce is safe to eat.”  On top of consumer demand, the recently enacted FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will establish minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables based on known safety risks.  To meet these challenges, the college will be offering a safe produce educational program this winter.

“Recent consumer trends suggest a preference for raw or minimally processed fruits and vegetables to canned and heat-treated versions that ensure that microorganisms have been killed, so fruit and vegetable growers must be especially careful to ensure their produce is safe,” the university said in a statement.

Extension educators will teach Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), delivering curriculum that “promises to deliver science-based, practical guidelines and materials for evaluating and documenting farm food-safety practices,” at day-long workshops in eight different locations, statewide, between January and March.

GAPs are voluntary guidelines established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the late 1990s. As the university notes in its announcement: “They were created with the intent of identifying potentially hazardous situations and taking preventive steps to avoid product contamination altogether, rather than having producers react to problems that occur, which could prove financially disastrous to a farm.”

“Many wholesale buyers already are requiring their grower-suppliers to receive training, conduct a self-audit and/or submit to third-party inspection,” explained Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science at Penn State, who added that the program will help growers write their own food safety plan.

“Participants will learn about potential food-safety hazards associated with producing fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as various water testing and treatment options. They’ll also learn how to conduct a mock recall, prepare for a third-party inspection, document farm practices and write a GAP plan,” the program release stated. “In the wake of the Food Safety Modernization Act, confusion and misconceptions have spread, he explained. Farmers with total sales of less than $500,000 are exempt from requirements as long as half of sales are directly to ‘qualified end users,’ such as in-state consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores or to out-of-state locations if they are less than 275 miles from the farm.”

“Of course, many restaurants and retail food establishments such as grocery stores have been moving toward their own GAP requirements, so even these smaller growers likely will be subject to those mandates,” LaBorde said.

For more information or to register for the program (which is $30), visit Penn State’s food-safety website.