The National Young Farmers Coalition, with funding from FDA, has released a 137-page guidebook that aims to help small and beginning growers understand the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule.
Cara Fraver, the National Young Farmers Coalition’s business services director and co-author of the guidelines, says the book was a project of the Local Food Safety Collaborative, which is a group of organizations funded by FDA through the National Farmers Union. The organization wanted to look at how the Produce Safety Rule and other parts of FSMA impact smaller growers who primarily sell locally.
“We tried to write this guide to give some clear explanations of the Produce Safety Rule, [and] to answer the question of how to improve food safety,” says Fraver. “The culture of produce safety in the U.S. has really changed in the last 10 years and the farmers who are entering farming now seem to understand the importance of food safety to their business and consumers.”
Still, larger growers who have been steeped in years of USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits are more comfortable with the language, rules, and record keeping than are smaller growers who haven’t needed audits and may not expect an inspection.
The guidebook and the accompanying online resource library are not exhaustive instructions on how to legally comply with the Produce Safety Rule, but are meant to equip growers with the basics to improve food safety on their farms. It contains training agendas, template standard operating procedures (SOPs), specific options for wildlife management, suggestions for how to set up a washing station, and much more.
“It is aimed at the growers we are most familiar training—smaller, highly diversified, usually qualified exempt from the Produce Safety Rule but very interested in growing the safest, healthiest food for their customers and communities,” says Maggie Kaiser, food safety trainer for the National Young Farmers Coalition and co-author of the guidebook. “This guide is designed to help those farmers make sense of the Produce Safety Rule and the basics of produce safety. Hopefully, it will demystify the rule a little and help growers, especially qualified exempt growers, improve their practices and reduce their risks.”
Many of the changes aimed at food safety practices can be implemented for a minimal cost to growers. For example, building portable handwashing stations, considering the order of operations if one also raises animals, having clearer labeling on the packaging, or training workers in produce safety are all low-cost measures that can improve food safety. Some other important basics include understanding water quality and considering risk when using soil amendments that come from animals.
“So many of the farmers we’ve trained are already taking food safety very seriously. We’ve tried to point out where changes might benefit food safety and other important factors on a farm, like shelf life, worker happiness, or even ways to save time,” Fraver says. “We’ve also tried to consider how some tweaks to food safety practices might be easy to incorporate into existing practices or forms. I hope that any farmer who reads this guide is struck and inspired to change a few little things on their operation, as well as getting a broader picture of the basics of food safety.”
The guidebook, entitled “A Small Farmer’s Practical Guide to Food Safety,” is available for free download at youngfarmers.org/resource/foodsafetyguide.