Food safety begins on the farm

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Agriculture Educator, Leigh Presley

The recent romaine E. coli outbreak gave us all a good excuse to skip the salad bar, but that’s probably the most positive possible outcome of a foodborne illness outbreak.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year nearly 48 million people (roughly 1 in 6 Americans) are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses.

It’s not just unfortunate eaters who suffer — every part of the food system is negatively affected.

As the trend in our health-care system turns to prevention, the same is happening in our nation’s food system with regard to foodborne illness.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is a large piece of legislation intended to shift the Federal Drug Administration’s focus to better protect public health by preventing food safety issues rather than reacting to outbreaks.

FSMA encompasses all parts of the food chain, from production to processing to transportation.

Though it became law in 2011, the implementation of FSMA is happening now, and it’s having a big impact on the fresh produce industry, including growers both big and small.

While meeting set standards for food safety at the farm level has previously been an industry requirement to sell into certain market channels, like large wholesalers or grocery stores, the FSMA Produce Safety Rule introduces minimum federal standards for growing produce.

Along with those standards hopefully comes a higher degree of confidence in our food system and progress in preventing foodborne illnesses.

Part of meeting these standards involves education and training for growers subject to the rule — focused on best practices that can help them reduce the likelihood of harmful bacteria entering our food system at their farms.

UW-Extension, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is offering that training at various locations throughout the state this winter:

Jan. 23, Shawano (Shawano County)

Feb. 7, Baldwin (St. Croix County)

Feb. 15, Madison (Dane County)

Feb. 28, Green Bay (Brown County)

March 15, Portage (Columbia County)

Grower training is just one step in meeting new standards set by the FSMA. Recordkeeping and inspections are also key components.

On-farm reviews of large produce farms (greater than $500,000 in annual food sales) will begin this summer, with inspections of smaller farms beginning in 2020.

Wisconsin is offering produce growers subject to the rule an opportunity to prepare for these inspections by participating in a voluntary review to provide an assessment of the farm’s readiness to meet the new requirements.

There is no charge to the grower, no regulatory paperwork and feedback is provided through observation and candid discussion.

For more information on FSMA, visit http://safeproduce.wi.gov.