New Public-Private Produce Safety Alliance

A new Produce Safety Alliance, housed at Cornell University in partnership with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will provide growers and packagers with the fundamental educational tools they need to ensure safe production, harvesting, and packing practices in advance of a proposed produce safety regulation.

The one thing the growers all said is that they need the rule to be scalable and flexible, because they don’t all grow the same size crops.

— Elizabeth Bihn, MS, Cornell University

Created with $1.15 million in funds from the FDA and USDA, the alliance will:

• develop a standardized program on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and co-management;

• create an information bank of scientific and technical information on farm and packinghouse produce safety and environmental co-management;

• assess existing educational outreach tools to identify knowledge gaps; and

• establish a network of educational collaborators that will allow for continuous improvement and the development of train-the-trainer materials.

The alliance will include 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 the FDA and Cornell officials on the alliance’s steering committee.

“Last year, the FDA did a listening tour through the Produce Safety Project, to get the growers’ input in advance of the planned 2011 rule,” said Elizabeth Bihn, MS, who coordinates the National GAPs program at Cornell and will be taking the lead on the Produce Safety Alliance there. “In these groups, the one thing the growers all said is that they need the rule to be scalable and flexible, because they don’t all grow the same size crops. They said that they need someone to help them make sure they’re ready. So the FDA and USDA are proactively trying to get growers prepared to meet the new rule and keep moving forward, without hampering domestic production of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Cornell was chosen to house the alliance because its national GAPs program has been a leader in the development and dissemination of food safety knowledge and materials on GAPs. “We’re now up to 28 participants,” said Bihn. “Our focus really has been on education, outreach, and training, with a focus on small to medium growers. We strive to offer a diversity of materials, because learners have very different needs.”

Within the next six months to a year, Bihn said, the alliance aims to put its executive committee and steering committee in place, and hold a national meeting to showcase the educational materials now in use across the nation. “We want to give people an opportunity to come together and present the best of the best that we’ve got now, and use that as a launching place to determine what we don’t have and how we can make things better.”

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