May 20, 2011
Texas safety site caters to nation’s food producers

The annual watermelon harvest that began in late April was the start of Texas fruit and vegetable yields, from the tropical southern regions to the fertile northwest plains.

While fresh produce pours into the market bins, experts are stirring some new safety information into the mix via a new website touting “Safe from our farm to your table,” and aimed at those who produce the nation’s food supply.

“Using good practices to produce food from planting to harvest – and in handling and processing – is more and more important,” said Juan Anciso, Texas AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist. “There was not a lot of information available to the producers per se. We were spurred on by that, but we didn’t want it to be a producers-only site.”

Anciso and colleague Joe Masabni launched the site, agrilifefoodsafety.tamu.edu, as a “one-stop shop” where farmers or anyone interested in learning about food safety in production and supply can find answers.

Anciso said assuring safe food supplies is increasingly important for farmers as state and federal governments eye legislation to regulate safety issues.

“This effort puts Texas producers ahead of the game as far as awareness of how to handle food crops,” Anciso said.

The site includes links to educational resources and information on facility sanitation, food allergens, foodborne pathogens, harvester resources, hygiene procedures, kitchen issues, meat and poultry safety, microbiology concerns and produce safety, he said.

“We also wanted to have a training aspect where a person can earn certification, if needed,” Anciso said. “So, we are factoring that in.”

The first such course, Food Safety: Texas GAPs and GHPs, provides online instruction in Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices.

“We asked AgriLife Extension agents in the counties what a person normally wants to know when they make contact,” Ancisco said. “So, we took that and developed the curriculum to meet those needs.”

Agricultural practices pertain to growing the crop; handling refers to unprocessed vegetables, he said. A third component, known as GMP or Good Manufacturing Practices, will be developed for food processors.

Site development was made possible by a grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture.

By Kathleen Phillips, Texas A&M

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