Nov 25, 2015
Online course develops food safety plan for North Carolina growers

North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis has developed a web-based course, free to North Carolina farmers, that will culminate in the development of a food safety plan. A written food safety plan is an integral part of becoming certified in Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

Diane Ducharme, Extension associate in horticulture and food safety, said, “The on-demand nature of this web-based learning environment allows growers to use the upcoming winter months to focus on continuing education and initiating modifications in their production, harvest and postharvest processes.”

Fresh Produce Good Agricultural Practices is an online course offered through the Campus offerings of eXtension, the knowledge-to-action service that is an integral part of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System. This course was developed based on the delivery of face-to-face workshops designed to 1) educate growers about food safety on the farm 2) explain USDA’s Good Handling Practices/Good Agricultural Practices third-party audit process, and 3) assist in developing a custom food safety program and writing a food safety plan for each participant’s farming operation. “More than 80 producers participated in the workshops in the past year; however there are more than 1,500 farming operations in North Carolina that might benefit from this training,” Ducharme said.

The course utilizes narrated PowerPoint (QuickTime) with downloadable handouts of the lectures, additional web resources and quizzes to test the participant’s knowledge. The course is divided into three learning modules. Completion of the first two modules requires approximately five hours, but participants can advance through the lectures at a pace that suits their schedule. The last module is devoted to creating a customized food safety plan and the time requirement varies by farm. The food safety plan can then be submitted for review by an Extension specialist and revised accordingly in preparation for a GAPs audit and certification.

The financial support allowing free enrollment for North Carolina residents was provided by a project called, N.C. Growing Together, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal of N.C. Growing Together is to bring more locally-produced foods into mainstream markets, strengthening the economics of small to mid-size farm and fishing operations. Completion of the Fresh Produce Good Agricultural Practices course will enable smaller producers to meet the market requirements of buyers (such as GAPs certification) and possibly new federal mandates. Ducharme emphasizes, “The impact of the recently passed federal Food Safety Modernization Act is still being evaluated. As the Food and Drug Administration provides guidance on this sweeping reform, the course will be updated to ensure the GAP audit requirements have continued compliance.”

The course consists of a nationally approved curriculum and is relevant to any size produce farm. Producers who do not live in North Carolina can enroll and complete the course for a fee of $70. Upon completion of the course, participants will be able to assess food safety hazards on the farm, confidently navigate the USDA GHP/GAP certification process, and have a certification-ready food safety plan. For more information about the course, visit the N.C. Fresh Produce Safety Portal or contact Diane Ducharme at [email protected].

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