It might be said that Washington takes the popular adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” more seriously than any other state. That’s because Washington produces more apples than any other state, supplying a whopping 60 percent of the domestic market and 90 percent of all apples exported from the U.S., boasts the Washington Apple Commission.
Washington produced 5.910 billion pounds of apples in 2015 worth $2,396,250,000, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Apples accounted for some 19 percent of the state’s total agricultural value in 2014 (the most current information available as we go to press).
The only state named after a U.S. president also takes food safety seriously.
At the core of the outstanding food safety efforts in the place that, along with California, Alaska, and Hawaii, is one of just four states that have active volcanoes, is the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA)’s Food Safety and Consumer Services Division (FSCSD). With all the power of Mount St. Helens (remember 1980?), which is one of Washington’s five major volcanoes, great food safety initiatives flow freely from the FSCSD.
“The Division includes a food safety program, an animal feed and rapid response program, an organic program, and a food assistance and regional markets (FARM) program,” says Susie Bautista, recall coordinator for the WSDA Animal Feed and Rapid Response Program (Feed/RRP).
The Division’s Food Safety Program (FSP) is responsible for compliance, including the licensing, inspection, and sampling of food processing facilities, food warehouses, and dairy farm operations throughout the state, Bautista relates.
“The FSP also helps food firms by providing technical assistance on food safety issues,” she elaborates. “The FSP works closely with the dairy industry to maintain the ability to ship milk and milk products out of state, as well as with FDA and the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH), in conducting investigations when pathogens such as E. coli are found in foods or consumers become ill from eating food products.”
After apples, milk is the Evergreen State’s second leading agricultural food and feed commodity, followed by wheat, potatoes, cattle/calves, hay, sweet cherries, grapes, pears, and hops.
Moreover, Washington actually ranks first in the nation in the production of red raspberries (92.7 percent of total U.S. production), sweet cherries (50.9 percent), pears (49.5 percent), and Concord grapes (36.5 percent), as reported by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Washington is also a major producer of stone fruits, fish, shellfish, carrots, onions, and mint oils.
According to Bautista, the FSCSD has been able to apply for and receive federal funding to plant seeds for a food and feed safety focus in Washington State.
To that end, some of the recent cooperative agreements the FSCSD has received include a Food and Feed Emergency Rapid Response Team (RRT), a Food Protection Task Force (FPTF), a recall coordinator with Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) readiness, a human food sample coordinator with FSMA readiness, a Food Emergency Response Network, Manufactured Foods Regulatory Program Standards (MFRPS), and Animal Feed Regulatory Program Standards (AFRPS).
There are approximately 2,200 food and feed manufacturing facilities in Washington State that are, or will eventually be, regulated under the new FSMA rules.
Washington was just the second state in the nation (after Wisconsin) to successfully meet all the MFRP standards, interjects Candace Jacobs, DVM, assistant director of the FSCSD. “We passed the MFRPS audit we had in March 2016 with flying colors,” she says.
One of the other things that people find fascinating about the WSDA, Dr. Jacobs notes, is the marijuana infused edibles facility inspections it provides.
“We are also gearing up to do whole genome sequencing in our FSCSD lab, an opportunity provided through the Washington RRT cooperative agreement with the FDA Office of Partnerships,” Dr. Jacobs adds. “WGS is used to genetically identify foodborne pathogen DNA, to help link a pathogen DNA pattern found in an ill person with a pattern found in a food firm’s facility or product.”