Two state agencies are joining forces to combat the devastating disruptions that occur when the food safety of farm products is called into question, according to a vegetable specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
The Texas Department of Agriculture and AgriLife Extension are creating a program to help fruit and vegetable growers develop safety procedures that could help prevent food scares, said Dr. Juan Anciso.
“When edible farm products are linked to possible outbreaks of E. coli or Salmonella, the economic ripple is huge and many people suffer – consumers, farmers, packers, shippers, grocers, advertisers, lots of people,” Anciso said.
There are currently few sanitation laws and regulations at the farm level, but that could change amid rising concerns about food safety, he said.
“Based on studies I’ve taken part in, rarely are pathogens found on fruits and vegetables at the farm level,” said Anciso. “It’s after they leave the farm when more and more people handle and process these products that the likelihood of negligible contamination can be greatly increased and lead to the large outbreaks. And that’s where the laws and regulations kick in, in the processing facilities that change a fresh, edible product into a processed product.”
But as more sophisticated techniques, including DNA testing, are developed to track down sources of contamination, the trail can lead all the way down to the farm, Anciso said.
"This newly funded program by TDA and AgriLife Extension to improve on-farm sanitation practices is a proactive measure to help growers voluntarily document their standard operating procedures and good agricultural practices,” he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced recently that the Texas Department of Agriculture had allocated $92,000 to create the Food Safety Good Agricultural Practices Program, to be implemented under the guidance of AgriLife Extension.
“Texas farmers are leaders in growing the safest and most abundant food supply in the world here in the U.S.,” Staples said. “By standardizing best practices, our farmers continue their commitment to making Texas produce the safest and best.”
The voluntary program is available on a first-come, first-served basis to producers in the Panhandle, Central Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
AgriLife Extension specialists work with producers to create detailed manuals of standard operating procedures, allowing them to apply for Good Agriculture Practices certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The idea is to bring awareness to growers that it is in their best interest to develop and keep records of good sanitation practices, such as water quality, fertilization and field-worker training.”
Anciso said so far the program has helped eight producers develop manuals.
“No two manuals are alike because no two farming operations are alike,” he said. “So each is tailor-made and we’re ready to help growers because it’s very important to maintain both food product safety and the confidence that consumers have in Texas agricultural products.”
For more information, contact one of the following AgriLife Extension program specialists: Alisa Petty in Lubbock at 806-746-6101; Rodrigo Avila in Crystal City at 830-374-2883; or Ashley Gregory in Weslaco at 956-968-5581.