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US (TX): AgriLife prepares to help growers meet new safety standards

To help producers and others meet the requirements of the newly implemented federal food safety laws, Texas A&M AgriLife is gearing up to begin training sessions, experts said.

Dr. Juan Anciso, a horticulture specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, said the Food Safety Modernization Act is designed to reduce foodborne illnesses.

“This act was signed into law by President Obama in 2011, but lawmakers included plenty of time for public comment and the fine-tuning of regulations. The law is now in effect, as of Nov. 2,” Anciso said. “These new federal regulations set standards for the growing, harvesting, packing and holding of produce for human consumption.”

Most recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced more than $2 million in grants to establish two regional centers to support the food safety training, outreach and technical assistance.

“Oregon State University will coordinate training in the western part of the U.S., while the University of Florida, with almost $1.2 million awarded from the grant, will coordinate training in the south,” Anciso said. “The south consists of nine states, including Texas, plus Puerto Rico.”

AgriLife personnel who will provide training in Texas include Anciso and Drs. Alejandro Castillo and Matt Taylor, both Texas A&M AgriLife Research food safety microbiologists in College Station.

Anciso will work with growers who grow, pack and ship fresh produce. Castillo will work primarily in the technology and science aspects of the new regulations, while Taylor will work with produce processors.

“I will become certified soon so that I can start providing training to others who in turn will provide training to what’s called third-party auditors,” Anciso said. “These are companies that already assist growers in auditing farm documentation and creating food and water safety plans but who do not provide this type of training.”

Most major retailers buy only from farms that have third-party auditors, he said.

“Most of these growers are likely already compliant,” Anciso said. “We’ve known for some time that these food safety laws were coming, so growers didn’t waste any time in preparing their operations.”

Some entities, Anciso explained, are exempt from the new safety laws.

“People, mostly those who sell at farmers markets, are exempt if their annual sales are less than $25,000 or if they sell at least 50 percent of their produce directly to consumers with sales of less than half a million dollars a year.”

Anciso said the coming year will be a busy one as AgriLife educates producers on being compliant with the new laws.

“That’s what AgriLife Extension does; we educate,” Anciso said. “In our trainings we will discuss the laws, what they mean, who’s affected and when, and food safety plans that must be maintained.”

Anciso said the new law and documentation required of growers will, among other things, make produce easier to track should there be any foodborne illness outbreaks.

“These new laws are meant to protect consumers, but they will also provide protection to growers, many of who are already compliant, by reducing the chances of producing and shipping contaminated produce.”

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