Food Safety of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
The University of Maryland Plant Science Department, Food Safety Group collaborates with the Maryland Department of Agriculture Food Quality Assurance Program, UMD Agriculture Law Education Initiative, and the University of Maryland Extension Food Safety to provide Maryland farmers and producers with support, education and assistance in fresh produce safety.
The past two decades have seen the implementation of both Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act), Produce Safety Rule. Maryland farmers are aware that food safety insures both healthy consumers and a healthy market.
The above collaborators provide training sessions in basic GAP and advanced GAP to assist growers in understanding food safety risks on their farm and developing/implementing a food safety plan to minimize those risks. The training can also assist growers in obtaining GAP certification frequently required by buyers. See below for more information on the GAP program and if certification is right for your farm.
The Produce Safety Rule is a federal law that requires compliance based on a farm's three-year- average annual produce sales. The training is taught by Produce Safety Alliance certified PSR trainers under the direction of a Lead Trainer. Participants receive certification of the training, which is one of the PSR requirements. See below for information.
Current information on both PSR and the GAP program can be found on the Walsh Lab Facebook page, Highway 301 Fruit and Vegetable News.
Introducing our weekly newsletter!
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter coming from the Plant Science Food Safety Group. Its focus is you, the Maryland fruit and vegetable farmer and will contain timely information to keep you updated on food safety work shops, webinars, classes, and other news. Here is our latest edition:
Last week the FDA announced the newest proposed change in implementation to the Food Safety Modernization Act. Traceability recordkeeping, a familiar requirement for Maryland produce farmers who are USDA GAP certified now will be a stand alone rule. Check out our latest edition of the Food Safety Newsletter for more information.
How About GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certification?
It is never too late, or too early to become GAP certified. The Plant Science Food Safety Group is offering virtual classes in preparation to become certified in Maryland Good Agricultural Practices (MD GAP). GAP certification provides the assurance to customers that a farm is employing high standards in farming methods that reduce the likelihood of contaminating produce with food borne pathogens. This includes practices that address water quality, manure and compost use, worker health and hygiene and contamination from wild life, domestic animals and livestock.
This program is appropriate for the farm that has recently initiated direct marketing to consumers or the farm that is considering a wholesale contract. Also aspiring farmers would be wise to include GAPs when constructing their business models. Contact Carol Allen (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Angela Ferelli (email@example.com) for more information about the program.
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Introducing Food Safety Fridays - A "How-to" Webinar Series
What: The Maryland Food Safety Network will host a monthly webinar series for farm operators on how to comply with key provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act - Produce Safety Rule (PSR).
When: The webinars will be held one Friday each month from May to November and will include experts demonstrating how to perform risk assessments, implement practices, and keep records to comply with the PSR.
Who: This webinar series is recommended for operators who have attended a Produce Safety Rule Grower Training and want more information on how to apply what they learned and what records they need to keep to be in compliance with the PSR.
May 22, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT, Worker Health and Hygiene - Learn strategies for effectively training for your employees and ways you can inform visitors of your food safety procedures
June 19, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT, Water Risk Assessment - Learn how to inspect your water distribution system and conduct a water risk assessment.
July 17, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT, Water Quality Testing and Criteria - Learn how to properly test your water, communicate with the water testing lab, and how to interpret water test results.
August 21, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT, Wildlife Monitoring - Learn how to conduct pre-harvest assessments for wildlife and how to create appropriate buffer zones to prevent harvesting of contaminated produce.
September 18, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT Post-Harvest Sanitation - Learn how to create and implement cleaning and sanitizing (C/S) schedules and how to deal with tough areas such as transportation and equipment.
October 16, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT Use of Biological Soil Amendments - Learn how to determining if your soil amendment is a treated or untreated compost, establish composting protocols, and safely apply untreated amendments
November 20, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. ET Creating a Food Safety Plan - Learn how to turn what you have gained throughout the webinar series into a customized food safety plan for your farm.
Register for the webinars today at foodsafetyfridays.eventbrite.com. If you are unable to participate in the webinars live, all of the webinars will be recorded and will be available to watch on a rainy day click here. Anyone with questions about the webinar series can contact Sarah Everhart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-706-7377.
Carol Allen, MS
Carol grew up in the farm lands of upstate New York and currently resides adjacent to the agricultural reserve in Montgomery County, MD. She holds a Masters degree in Plant Science with a concentration in plant pathology, plant virus, and integrated pest management. Specifically, Carol is happiest when she is on the hunt for pests and diseases whether it be in the apple orchard, nursery, or greenhouse. Her background gives her the advantage of talking to farmers in their language and with the understanding of their particular issues. As an educator she has the skill to introduce new concepts and procedures in an easily understood manner. Carol is a PSA certified Produce Safety Rule trainer and is qualified to aid in On Farm Readiness Reviews. Contact Carol at email@example.com.
Angela Ferelli, Ph.D.
Angela Ferelli is an Agent Associate in Food Safety at the University of Maryland and a Produce Safety Alliance Lead trainer. She has a passion for effective science communication and translatable research that can aid growers in making on-farm risk assessments and management decisions. In addition to the Produce Safety Rule, she is also certified to assess risk for small food processors (PCQI) and in food defense (IA). Angela received her PhD from the University of Maryland, where she researched Salmonella enterica interactions with the tomato immune system and persistence in surface and reclaimed water. Contact Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Produce Safety Specialists at the University of Maryland Plant Science Department provide assistance, education, and research to support farmers and producers reach their food safety goals. Together with our collaborators, we coordinate advanced and basic GAP trainings for DelMarVaPa farmers. We also provide assistance in food safety plan writing, GAP certification, irrigation water sampling, interpreting water sampling test results, and more!Angela
What can we do for you?
MDA Guidance for PYO Operations During COVID-19 State of Emergency
Thank you to our collaborators for their input! This was a joint effort on the part of MDA and MDH with input from the Plant Science Food Safety Group and from the Agriculture Law Education Initiative.
The guidance is available in Spanish here.
La guia en Español esta disponible AQUI.
MDA Issues Guidance for Farmer's Markets Operations During the COVID-19 State of Emergency: Frequently Asked Questions
Many farm markets will be opening soon and some are already seeing customers. With the loss of wholesale, other farmers are opening up to direct market sales. This is a time of new restrictions and new innovations. This document was written in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Health to insure both customers and farm personnel are protected. Read that here.
A Talk About COVID-19 for Your Spanish Speaking Workers
Keeping workers healthy has become more of an issue during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic than in any time in memory. A recorded talk in Spanish giving a basic introduction to what COVID-19 is all about, modes of transmission, prevention protocols and guidelines for day-to-day living can be found here. Also of interest is the part of Governor Hogan's March 30th speech that introduced the stay-at-home order and who it effects. You can listen to that here. Both of these recordings are in Spanish and are easily accessed on a cell phone
Una audio en Español dando una introduccion basica a todo lo referente al Covid-19: Modos de transmision, protocolos para prevenir contagios y guias para la vida dia a dia de pueden encontrar AQUI.
How Does COVID-19 Affect My Farm?
Watch this spot for updates on cleaning and sanitizing methods, worker training, and other topical issues.
Changes in cleaning and sanitizing and now disinfecting!
Strong cleaning and sanitizing programs not only maintain quality of your product but can also protect your product from food borne pathogens and pathogens of emerging public health concern.
Transmission of COVID-19 through food, food packages or even food handlers has not been identified as a risk factor for this illness. Food facilities are required to use EPA-registered “sanitizer” products in their normal cleaning and sanitizing practices. Nevertheless, research indicates that viruses like this type can stay viable on hard surfaces for a few hours to possibly longer.
Therefore, in addition to cleaning your food contact surfaces, identify other surfaces of interest to add into your cleaning and sanitizing program. These should include “high touch” surfaces such as doorknobs, small-wares, counter tops, light switches and surfaces consumers may touch. Surfaces to consider for disinfection*:
6.Keyboards or other shared electronics / tools
7.Employee break area
8.Pack out containers that go to consumers
9.Anything else a consumer may interact with
*The FDA has authorized the following products and their dilution rates as effective disinfectants to be used in the case of COVID-19
What to do If an Employee or Contract Worker Tests Positive for COVID-19
Jennifer McEntire, Vice President of Food Safety and Technology at United Fresh, joined with several colleagues in the food industry to develop a guide for food chain employers on what to do when an employee or contract worker tests positive for COVID-19.
We anticipate that the ‘Food Industry Recommended Protocol When Employee/Customer Tests Positive for COVID-19’ will be posted soon on the FDA website; so please refer all employers, local, and state officials to this source,” says Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh.
(quoted from Greenhouse Grower, an industry publication. Read the complete article here: https://www.greenhousegrower.com/production/what-to-do-if-a-food-industry-employee-tests-positive-for-covid-19/)
What Does the Stay-At-Home Order Mean To Me and My Workers?
Agriculture is considered an essential business. The Maryland Department of Agriculture guidance states, "Agriculture and food-related businesses remain essential, however individual companies are asked to make an honest assessment as to whether their operation is essential to public health and safety."
Workers are urged to minimize all unnecessary trips. Travel is allowed to obtain food, medicine, urgent medical care, assist family members, and obtain food and care for livestock and pets. Read full order here: https://governor.maryland.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Gatherings-FOURTH-AMENDED-3.30.20.pdf
The Maryland State Police will not be doing random checks, but as part of routine traffic activities, non essential travel would be an additional enforcement action. Read full statement here: https://news.maryland.gov/msp/2020/03/31/state-police-enforcement-of-governors-executive-orders-continues/
In the event a worker is detained, the following documents (templates, fill in pertinent information) have been created:
Documentation is not required, but the Maryland State Police order states, "While it is not necessary for drivers in Maryland to have documentation about the purpose of travel, having such documentation may help resolve questions."
Maryland’s farmers and producers have a history of appreciating the relationship between their customers and their product. In the face of nationwide food borne illness outbreaks, it becomes vital to Maryland’s farmers to insure delivering safe, fresh produce to their markets.
In 1998 the first of several steps to standardize produce growing and handling was initiated when the FDA published the “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables,” (The FDA Guide). This publication informs the farmer about areas in production and handling that are in high risk of microbial contamination and how to minimized that exposure.
Soon after that publication was released, wholesale buyers of fresh fruits and vegetables started requiring their suppliers to undergo 3rd party audits to insure that Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) were being observed. That audit program insures that the standards outlined in the FDA Guide are being met.
GAP & GHP are voluntary programs. The Maryland Department of Agriculture, Food Quality Assurance Program has developed a state GAP/GHP certification program. This program is a good way to start developing better food safety practices on your farm if you have never had a GAP/GHP audit or inspection. The program includes development of a food safety plan, implementation of that plan, and an onsite inspection. Producers that pass receive a certificate. All levels of GAP/GHP look at various areas of practice. They include:
Developing a food safety plan
Manure and municipal biosolids
Worker health and hygiene
Packing facility sanitation
Most Growers find that attending a Basic GAP training to be of great assistance in developing a food safety plan for their farm. Whether you are a farmer-in-training, beginning farmer, or have farmed for decades having a plan in place sets standards and practices for food safety in a progressive and organized fashion. Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Science has put together a good set of references here. A set of Produce Safety Rule and GAP compliant record templates are here.
Information on the MDA GAP program are found here:
I’m a PYO Fruit Grower….
I’m a Vegetable Farmer with a CSA………
I’m a Mostly Wholesale Grower with a Farm Stand….
I Raise Beef Cattle and Grow Vegetables for Our Family….
Does the Produce Safety Rule Affect Me?
The Produce Safety Rule (PSR) section of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is aimed at reducing the risk of human exposure to microbial pathogens when fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed raw. Most all fruits and vegetables that are generally eaten raw are covered. *
*For this calculation, grains, animal feeds, poultry, livestock, etc. are included
If you find that you fall into either the qualified exempt or required compliance categories, what do you do? The first step would be to attend a Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) training on the PSR. That training will outline the compliance requirements. Though lengthy, the PSR requirements are fairly common-sense standards and procedures that you are probably already implementing on your farm and are very similar to GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) certification requirements.
You will need at least one person on your farm who has taken the training. It is very important that the PSA trained person be in a position to update procedures and train workers in the PSR standards.
In Maryland we are privileged to have the Maryland Department of Agriculture overseeing PSR compliance. Inspections of the larger producers have already started, and many farms are electing to have an On Farm Readiness Review (OFRR) before an inspection. The OFRR brings three specialists to your farm: someone from MDA, someone from your local extension office, and a food safety educator from the University of Maryland. This team will go over the compliance requirements with you and look specifically at your farm’s unique situation. Even the FDA is looking at these first years as a time of education not retribution. We in the Food Safety Group have attended many OFRR’s, and the farmer feedback is that they are very helpful and give real, reasonable application to what can be a confusing set of laws. The goal is to develop a food safety culture on your farm and with your workers to help keep your customers safe.
*The following are produce commodities that FDA has identified as rarely consumed raw: asparagus; black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans; garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets; cashews; sour cherries; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; sweet corn; cranberries; dates; dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; ginger; horseradish; hazelnuts; lentils; okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts