Farmers, researchers, state officials, produce industry experts and others interested in the safety of fresh fruit and vegetables are invited to join working committees to help develop a national Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) education curriculum.
The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) is coordinating the effort to create a training program for farmers, packers and regulators in anticipation of new produce safety rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Alliance is housed at Cornell University’s National GAPs Program and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA.
An official website at www.producesafetyalliance.cornell.edu/ launched this week is just one of the ways the group is trying to get key information to stakeholders on this effort.
Ten working committees will each be focused on a specific aspect of produce safety, ranging from production and post-harvest handling issues related to risk assessment and preventive practices, through food-safety plan writing to certification-related activities.
“It is in our best interest to cast a wide net to encourage broad participation in order to obtain the best information, scientific knowledge, and in-the-field experience available to inform these efforts,” said Betsy Bihn, project director of the Alliance, in a news release.
Bihn said the Alliance will review existing GAPs educational and instructional materials, seek to identify and fill any areas where information is lacking, and then develop and continuously update multi-formatted education programs on food safety and environmental concerns.
Working committees will select a chair who will also serve on a steering committee that will make recommendations on curriculum content to the Alliance’s executive committee.
The executive committee includes members from Cornell University, the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the FDA, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA’s top priorities,” said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen A. Merrigan. “The Alliance will bring a wide range of voices to the table and use that information to develop a valuable curriculum for fresh fruit and vegetable food safety practices”
“The Alliance has set an ambitious agenda,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods. “Tapping into the expertise and experience of farmers, researchers, and food safety professionals for these working committees will be key to its success.”
Each working committee will meet regularly by teleconference. Individuals interested in joining a PSA working committee can see a complete list of the panels and the scope of their work, as well as download a membership form from the Alliance website at http://producesafetyalliance.cornell.edu/working.html. Or request a membership form by calling 315 787 2625 or writing to Betsy Bihn, 630 W. North Street, Hedrick Hall-NYSAES, Geneva, NY 14456.
Bihn said that during the GAPS Educational Materials Conference in June in Orlando, FL the Alliance will review existing materials, determine where new or additional materials are needed, and begin developing those materials.