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Rideout: Food safety

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Andy Rideout, Special to The Gleaner
Published 7:00 p.m. CT Dec. 23, 2017

Food Safety is an ever increasing concern and rightly so.  According to the Food and Drug Administration’s website, 30+ food recalls have been issued across the US in the 6 months.  Some recalls had some precautionary basis while some were not but, the fact remains; food safety is a serious matter.  The recent recalls included salmonella, listeria, clostridium botulism, and even “choking hazard due to bits of red plastic”. 

Ensuring our food is safe has proven more difficult as society has become more global in its food distribution.  Our food comes from sources all over the world, often through a network of producers, processors, packagers, wholesalers, and finally, retailers. 

So, the question is, what are we doing to protect ourselves?  I would argue that it is a combination of protections starting with the producer and includes the consumer also.

We all know that food safety makes sense, but all the acronyms get a little confusing. As a producer, there are two main standards you should know about: FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and GAP (Good agricultural Practices).  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law on January 4, 2011 by President Obama and many of its provisions are just now taking effect.  It is the most sweeping reform of the United States’ food safety laws in over 70 years. There are seven primary rules included within FSMA.  

One of the seven is the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, which is the first mandatory requirement for facilities involved in growing, harvesting, packaging, and holding fresh produce. Unlike other standards before, FSMA is a law—a government-enforced regulation. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule went into effect on October 31, 2015 but some farms are exempt based on their size.  Most all farms with sales volume over $25,000 will be required to comply with FSMA between 2016 and 2018.

GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and GHP (Good Handling Practices) are not governmental regulations, but rather standards of agricultural production and handling that minimize microbial food safety risks. GAP is based on guidelines from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is considered “voluntary.” This means that you are not legally required to comply with GAP, but the companies or organizations you sell to or through may require that you be GAP certified. 

Even if you are exempt from FSMA and you don’t sell to someone who requires GAP, if you sell your produce, for legal reasons you should still conduct risk assessments and have a food safety program in place.  The first major step in complying with FSMA, GAP, and generally minimizing microbial food safety risk, is having a food safety plan or manual. Food Science and Safety specialists from the University of Kentucky’s Food System Innovation Center are partnering with the Department of Horticulture, the Food Connection, Agricultural Economics and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to create trainings that help growers develop their own Food Safety Plan.

This is part of a broader collaborative effort to train producers and extension personnel on all the necessary steps to make food safer. In the coming years, more details about food safety are sure to be hot topics and trainings will become available for producers and handlers. Until then, you can find more information about FSMA from fda.gov and more information about GAP at ams.usda.gov and kagr.com.

Consumers can reduce their risk greatly with a few simple rules.  Look closely at fresh produce to make sure the produce is fresh and relatively free of disease and decay.  Always store food properly and cook your food to proper temperatures before consuming.  Make sure to check expiration dates and dispose of food that has passed its expiration date.  Make sure to wash fruit and vegetables before preparing as well as utensils when preparing multiple dishes.

Of course, consumers can reduce their risks by purchasing from local producers.  Get to know your local farmers, ask about their harvest procedures, ask about GAP training and pay attention to how they store their produce and package it. 

If you are a producer or a consumer and want more information on what you can do to ensure safe food, give me a call at the Henderson County Extension Office; we are happy to help!

Contact Andy Rideout at the Henderson County Extension Office at pandrewrideout@uky.edu, at 270-826-8387 or stop by the Henderson County Cooperative Extension Service at 3341 Zion Road, Henderson, KY for more information.

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