N.C. Cooperative Extension, through its fresh produce safety initiative, and in cooperation with the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force, is taking a pro-active approach to providing critical training to agents and producers. Extension faculty members have secured more than $250,000 in grants and equipment for education and research to support training efforts. The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant, the Agricultural Advancement Consortium of The Rural Center, the Risk Management Agency, the N.C. Tomato Growers Association and PPG Inc. funded grants to support these projects:
- A Web site, www.ncfreshproducesafety.org, with resources for growers, educators and consumers. Take a look at what you can do for Food Safety Month.
- A fresh produce safety curriculum and three train-the-trainer workshops across the state in fall 2008 and spring 2009. The curriculum package is scheduled to go to counties in November.
- Research on water quality issues, human pathogen and plant interactions, and microbiological mitigation.
- Research on current levels and types of traceability systems in North Carolina, including ability and effectiveness to respond to investigations of food-borne illnesses or recall situations, and ways to make improvements.
- A pilot study on the development of traceability templates for three differently sized operations that are typical of N.C. growers, packers and shippers. The study will look at cost-effective ways to comply with current guidance from the Produce Traceability Initiative.
- More than 90 presentations on fresh produce safety education throughout the state and region.
- Food safety plan templates for growers to use and adapt for their operations. The templates are based on the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) Audit.
- A plan for delivering rapid information updates during an outbreak in an affected commodity.
- Crisis communications and management training, including intensive on-camera training, for commodity groups, producers and members of the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force.
- Collaborative efforts throughout the Southeast for a more integrated fresh produce safety response.
Numerous Extension campus and field faculty, from both N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University, are members of the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force. The co-chairs of the task force are: Dr. Ben Chapman, Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences; Diane Ducharme, Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture; Dr. Chris Gunter, Department of Horticultural Science; and Dr. Trevor Phister, Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Science.
In addition to the above ongoing efforts, the Task Force has accomplished the following:
- Developed a strategic plan with vision statement and goals for N.C. fresh produce industry.
- Organized a 30-member policy team of growers and industry and association representatives to provide insight into how federal and state legislation and regulations affect North Carolina. The team provides one-on-one interaction with the N.C. Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., to discuss pending produce safety regulations and to convey frontline experiences from N.C. farms.
- Maintained active representation on the Governor’s Food Safety and Defense Task Force.
- Delivered educational opportunities for commodity leadership.
Updates for both Extension fresh produce safety efforts and the overall N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Task Force are posted on this Web site.