Why Produce Farmers Should be Concerned about Food Safety
The United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, and it’s no coincidence. A lot of work has been put into developing rules that producers, processors, and distributors must follow in order to keep the food we eat safe. Even so, there are still plenty of instances where something goes wrong and people fall ill as a result. On February 12, for example, the Centers for Disease Control declared an end to a recent outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterial pathogen. Since October, 35 people in 12 states have fallen ill and at least three have died as a result of contaminated prepackaged caramel apples. Outbreaks such as this can catch the public’s attention – and can cause people to think twice about purchasing similar products, whatever the source.
Listeria is just one example of a pathogen that can cause illness, and it is one that is most severe when it affects pregnant women or persons with weakened immune systems. As modern medical science allows people to live longer and helps those who are immuno-compromised to survive, it becomes increasingly important to protect the quality of our food. Disease-causing organisms or chemicals may come into contact with food in a variety of ways, such as using improperly composted manure, employees practicing poor hygiene, or allowing contaminants to spread to crops from nearby areas.
In 2010, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. This legislation is an attempt to update food safety laws, and is still in the process of being implemented. The final rules will be in place by October, though it is still unclear when enforcement will begin. When it does, farms may be required to have a farm safety plan and undergo inspections, depending on farm size. A farm safety plan includes a set of standard operating procedures that a farm must follow. These cover topics such as animal husbandry and grazing, water use and quality control, adjacent land use, fertilization, employee hygiene and training, and food security.
For more information about food safety concerns, contact the Small Farms & Alternative Enterprises team at http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/. For those interested, a Food Safety Plan Workshop will be held in Jacksonville on February 26, 2015, at the Duval County Extension Office. For more information please contact Dilcia Toro at (386)362-1725, ext. 102.