New York growers get schooled on new Produce Safety Rule

New York growers get schooled on new Produce Safety Rule

About 50 growers from across New York state filled a small room at the SRC Arena in Syracuse, N.Y., during the Empire State Producers Expo to learn about meeting Food Safety Modernization Act requirements.

The New York State Vegetable Growers Association sponsored the expo.

“It’s important to remember food safety management is not about eliminating risks. It’s about reducing them,” Betsy Bihn, senior extension associate in Cornell University’s Department of Food Science, told the crowd at the Jan. 15 session.

An instructor leading the expo’s Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Course, Bihn is also director of the alliance and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Good Agricultural Practices program.

New York State worked with the Food and Drug Administration to adopt and enforce the FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule as part of the New York State Agriculture and Markets rules and regulations.

Seminar attendees were motivated by necessity: One person from each qualifying farm will be required to have this training certificate, Bihn said.

These rules may affect many growers, harvesters, packers and holders of fresh fruits and vegetables, but there are quite a few exceptions.

The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, along with Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, will perform on-farm readiness reviews, which are like on-site mock inspections. By request, an expert will review farms and facilities to help the business owner understand what it will take to be compliant with the Produce Safety Rule. 

Elizabeth Hodgdon, a vegetable specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, is one of those experts.

“I think the mock inspections are a great resource for growers,” Hodgdon said after the seminar. “I’m glad we’re moving in this direction and that growers are getting the training they need.” 

The eight-hour seminar was divided into seven modules:

>Personnel health, hygiene and training;

>agricultural water (irrigation and washing);

>biological soil amendments of animal origin and human waste;

>domesticated and wild animals;

>growing, harvesting, packing and holding activities;

>equipment, tools, buildings and sanitation; and

>sprouts.

During the course, there was a lot of talk about the danger of animal feces on farms.

“Consider if you have a domesticated animal around while harvesting, or if they’re around while the edible part of the plant is underground,” Bihn said.

Bihn said contamination risks vary among treated public water, groundwater and surface water open to the environment. 

“You can’t tell by looking at it what the (pathogen) load is. That’s really important to understand,” Bihn said. “Your water can look clear and be full of E. coli, or it can be murky and just fine. The only way to determine if there’s a lot of E. coli is to pull a sample of it and get an answer.”

Bihn discussed the types of sanitizers people should use in packing and storage warehouses. She said not to use a power-washer, because the blast of water could spread contamination to packing lines.

Everyone needs a pest-management plan, and transportation is another aspect that’s included in the Produce Safety Rule. Keep a log of your completed cleaning and sanitation tasks, she said.

Bihn finished the course with tips on creating food safety plans, and how they can double as a marketing document to score new buyers.

Although many growers and packers meet similar voluntary requirements through third-party certification programs, the Produce Safety Rule’s goal is to tweak those voluntary requirements into a more regulatory approach.