New food safety site caters to farmers

COLLEGE STATION — The annual watermelon harvest that begins in late April will be the start of Texas fruit and vegetable yields from the tropical southern regions to the fertile, northwest plains.

Texas spinach crop under irrigation. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo)

While fresh produce pours into the market bins, experts are stirring some new safety information into the mix via a new website touting “Safe from our farm to your table” and aimed at those who produce the nation’s food supply.

“Using good practices to produce food from planting to harvest — and in handling and processing — is more and more important,”said Dr. Juan Anciso, Texas AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist. “There was not a lot of information available to the producers per se. We were spurred on by that, but we didn’t want it to be a producers-only site.”

Anciso and colleague Dr. Joe Masabni launched the site, http://agrilifefoodsafety.tamu.edu/ as a “one-stop shop” where farmers or anyone interested in learning about food safety in production and supply can find answers.

Anciso said assuring safe food supplies is increasingly important for farmers as state and federal governments eye legislation to regulate safety issues.
“This effort puts Texas producers ahead of the game as far as awareness of how to handle food crops,” Anciso said.
The site includes links to educational resources and information on facility sanitation, food allergens, foodborne pathogens, harvester resources, hygiene procedures, kitchen issues, meat and poultry safety, microbiology concerns and produce safety, he said.

“We also wanted to have a training aspect where a person can earn certification, if needed,” Anciso said. “So we are factoring that in.”

The first such course, Food Safety: Texas GAPs and GHPs, provides online instruction in Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices.

“We asked AgriLife Extension agents in the counties what a  person normally wants to know when they make contact,” Ancisco said. “So we took that and developed the curriculum to meet those needs.”

Agricultural practices pertains to growing the crop; handling refers to unprocessed vegetables, he said. A third component known as GMP, or Good Manufacturing Practices, will be developed for food processors.

A demonstration of the site will be available in the exhibits area of the Texas Food Safety Conference, May 11-12, at the Hilton Austin, 500 East 4th St. Austin, TX. More information is available at http://conta.cc/hHQDVR.

Site development was made possible by a grant from Texas Department of Agriculture.

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