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FDA, USDA, Cornell create alliance for produce safety

A new public-private organization located at Cornell will provide produce growers and packagers with fundamental, on-farm food safety knowledge, in advance of a proposed produce safety regulation.

The new Produce Safety Alliance is a three-year, $1.15 million partnership funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA/AMS). It will be housed at Cornell through a grant from AMS. Cornell's national Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) program has been a leader in the development of materials on GAPs, says the FDA, and in its dissemination of food safety knowledge to the agricultural community.

Key elements of the alliance's work include:

  • Developing a standardized, but multiformatted and multilingual education program on GAPs and co-management;
  • Creating an information bank of up-to-date scientific and technical information related to on-farm and packinghouse produce safety, environmental co-management and eventually the FDA's proposed produce safety rule;
  • Launching a website to make the alliance's work and information readily accessible;
  • Establishing a network of educational collaborators;
  • Conducting an assessment of existing educational outreach tools to identify knowledge gaps and to provide for continuous updating; and
  • Working with partners on the steering committee and others to develop and deliver train-the-trainer materials and sessions.

In 2011 the FDA is expected to issue a proposed rule on the safe production, harvesting and packing of produce. The alliance is aimed at giving produce growers and packers training and educational materials and opportunities to learn about current risk- and science-based best food safety practices, and future regulatory requirements.

The alliance will have representatives from the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, land-grant universities, growers and shippers, produce trade organizations and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, joining FDA, AMS and Cornell officials on the alliance's steering committee.

"In our 12-plus years of working with growers and packers on how best to implement GAPs, we have seen how much they want to do the right thing and meet the industry demand for food safety," said Betsy Bihn, coordinator of Cornell's National GAPs Program and a senior extension associate in the Department of Food Science. "What growers and packers want is science-based information they can use in the fields and the packing houses to improve food safety practices in practical ways. Our goal is to meet that need today and down the road as FDA moves forward in its rulemaking process."

Taylor and Keeney noted that voluntary and contractual produce safety standards already are in use by many producers nationwide and that the alliance will take those into account in developing its materials. The work of the alliance also will be based on the co-management approach of integrating food safety and environmental protection efforts, they said.

The FDA and USDA will issue updates on the progress and activities of the Produce Safety Alliance in the coming months.


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John Carberry