By Maggie Smith
With the ever-growing concern over food safety among consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, producers soon will have to adjust to stricter regulations and regular inspections on their farms.
In 2011, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which mandates the inspection of farms by U.S. Food and Drug Administration agents to spot possible violations of the new rules, once they are implemented in 2019.
The food safety act includes new regulations on worker hygiene and training, agricultural water, biological soil amendments, animal location on farms and equipment sanitation.
To help ensure Alabama’s farmers will be prepared for these inspections, Jean Weese, Auburn University Food Systems Institute associate director, is working with the food safety unit of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to provide training programs for both large- and small-scale producers across the state.
“Farmers who have never been inspected before will now be required to be inspected if they make more than $25,000 in gross sales,” said Weese, who also is a professor of food science at Auburn. “We have received a grant from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to help educate farmers about what this new rule is going to do, what they need to do to meet inspection requirements, records they need to keep and the practices they need to have.”
The FDA will require that that farmers go through a training program to prepare for the regulations, so Weese and her team have developed a guide book that explains the laws and offers examples of the records farmers will be required to keep.
“Farmers will now have to keep records such as what type of soil amendments they use and how often they clean their facilities,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure these farmers know exactly what records they will need to keep and how they should document those records.”
Weese and her team already have trained more than 150 farmers on the regulations and are helping them meet the new FDA standards.
They also have established an “on-farm readiness review” program, in which they will visit farms and perform mock inspections to prepare farmers for the coming inspections.
“We asked farmers if they would like for us to come to their farms so we can train them for what to expect with the future inspections,” she said.
In addition, the team will offer a free, one-day training program where farmers will receive a USB flash drive containing documents they will need to meet the produce safety rules.
“We are working with farmers to be a liaison between them and the state regulators,” Weese said.