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Law And Order: Ag Unit

CALS faculty and staff worked with legislators and growers to shape and implement policy.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in nearly a century, North Carolina fruit and vegetable growers needed a hand adapting their operations. CALS faculty have been working with partners statewide to meet those needs.

How, exactly? Through leadership of the Fresh Produce Safety Task Force, created by CALS faculty nearly a decade ago.

Task force members reviewed the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and assessed its impact. They hosted FDA farm visits, educated growers and associations, and actively collected and delivered their comments straight to lawmakers – giving farmers a science-based voice at the table.

The task force is a partnership of NC State and NC A&T State universities, the N. C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the North Carolina Farm Bureau, farmers, commodity groups and industry associations statewide.

“North Carolina is leading the country in its effort to help stakeholders comply with FSMA regulations, so that every farm and food manufacturer can contribute to the challenge of feeding the population safe food,” said Chris Daubert, head of the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011, FSMA aims to keep the country’s food supply safe by shifting the focus from contamination response to prevention, which requires different approaches at all levels.

Food safety faculty secured a $200,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grant in 2016 to provide growers with FSMA training at significantly reduced costs.

And several CALS departments collaborated with Extension to hire five food safety area specialized agents in 2016 — including Lynette Johnston — to help the state’s food and animal feed industry implement FSMA requirements.

“Compliance dates for many farmers and processors [of both human and animal food] are fast approaching,” Johnston said. “Our team’s most pressing goal is to effectively train as many farms and food manufacturers as possible on how to comply with the new regulations.”

The NC State team is “incredibly helpful,” said Larry Kohl, director of food safety and quality assurance for Food Lion parent company Delhaize America. His staff took a course led by Johnston and area specialized agent Chip Simmons.

“We were able to create customized examples integrated throughout the training curriculum specific to a distribution center,” Kohl said. “This was highly impactful to our associates and further enabled them to apply the training.”

Three Extension specialists — Ben Chapman (food safety), Chris Gunter (vegetable production) and Adam Farenholz (feed mill), pictured above — have created training curricula that are now used as national models.

Gunter also is working with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to develop the On-Farm Readiness Review Tool that prepares growers for on-farm inspections for fresh produce safety. After helping roll out the program in Michigan and Florida, Gunter is gearing up for the next on-farm pilot, which takes place in North Carolina.

“I believe the task force and its ability to connect producers, university research and Extension personnel, regulatory agency staff and all of the support industry stakeholders statewide has been a critical component of increasing awareness of fresh produce safety across the state,” he said. “This has been a great collaborative effort.”

CALS grad Caitlin Boon serves as senior adviser to the director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. She provides advice to senior management on scientific, policy and operational issues, including FSMA.

Read Caitlin’s story here.