UF receives $1.2 million NIFA grant to spread the word on new national food safety standards

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida will help lead the charge in educating stakeholders on the sweeping changes being made to national food safety regulations with a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The grant will help establish the Southern Training, Education, Extension, Outreach, and Technical Assistance Center to Enhance Produce Safety at UF, lead by the team of Michelle Danyluk, Renee Goodrich Schneider, and Keith Schneider in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Amy Harder in the Agricultural Education and Communication Department; and Danielle Treadwell in the Horticultural Sciences Department.

NIFA recently announced more than $2 million in grants to establish two regional centers supporting comprehensive food safety training and education, pursuant to the rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) being released this fall. These centers will play a leading role in coordinating and implementing FSMA-related training, education, and outreach programs for small and medium-sized farms, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, and/or small fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers.

“USDA is committed to ensuring that farmers, food processors and wholesalers receive relevant training and assistance as they work to comply with new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “These newly established centers, along with the centers created by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will help producers and businesses across the country safely add value to agricultural products and expand their access to local, regional, and national markets.”

Built upon the backbone of Cooperative Extension at 15 land-grant universities in the Southern United States, the Southern Center, lead by UF/IFAS, will partner with a variety of stakeholders, including state and local governments, community-based organizations, and non-governmental organizations to develop a cadre of trainers, said Danyluk, UF associate professor of food science. These trainers will support FSMA compliant training, education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance related to the produce industry, she said.

Programs will focus on helping audiences understand and interpret FSMA regulations and implement systems to meet requirements across the respective environments, agricultural production and processing systems in the Southern U.S. to ensure co-management of food safety, conservation systems and ecological health, Danyluk said.

“UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science has been providing food safety extension programs to our stakeholders for years,” said Keith Schneider, professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Now, UF/IFAS will lead a consortium of 15 land-grant institutions and three non-government organizations to educate and assist stakeholders as they implement these new standards, he said.

“FSMA changes the way food is regulated in the United States, so there are new standards and regulations for stakeholders to meet,” Schneider said. “The grant will help us create standardized curricula and training so everyone in the southeast region can deliver a consistent message.”

In addition, the Southern Center will provide regional examples for specific states. “The goal is to help farmers and other producers provide safe food while also being profitable,” Schneider said.

This collaborative program with FDA includes one national coordination center and four regional centers. The FDA-funded national coordination center will coordinate the overall program, while the regional centers will reach out into local communities to work with FSMA audiences and stakeholders across the country. Regional centers will also coordinate with one another through the national coordination center.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit nifa.usda.gov/impacts or follow us on Twitter @usda_nifa, #NIFAimpacts.

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Sources: Michelle Danyluk, 863-956-8654, mddanyluk@ufl.edu

Keith Schneider, 352-294-3910, keiths29@ufl.edu