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Farmers Helping Farmers Grow Safe Minnesota Food
Minnesota Ag Connection - 02/20/2020

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major overhaul of the U.S. food safety system since 1938. It was signed into law in 2011 and finalized in 2015. Our food system is generally safe, but foodborne illness outbreaks have led to a stronger emphasis on prevention. One part of FSMA, the Produce Safety Rule, applies to produce growers.

"Many farms will now be required by law to implement a baseline of practices that used to be voluntary, and this can be overwhelming for some farms," says Annalisa Hultberg, University of Minnesota Extension educator.

Extension is helping break down what can be an overwhelming topic into manageable pieces, and into formats that are useful for growers. Engaging farmers in ways that help them act as liaisons to farmers who are less prepared or confident is one strategy that is working.

Laura Frerichs of Loon Organics Farm in Hutchinson is one of those liaisons.

"I have to completely hand it to University of Minnesota Extension, to the food safety team--to Anne Sawyer and Annalisa Hultberg--because they are doing something that is groundbreaking nationwide with some of the food safety work," says Frerichs, who grows vegetables with her husband. "They are getting farmers involved as educators and teachers. I think it is really amazing to involve us on that grassroots level."

"Peer-to-peer education is a very effective tool for adult learners, and farmers respond well to having one of their own at the front of the room," says Hultberg. "Other states call us and ask about our model of engaging farmers as trainers and how we are rolling this out."

One of the first questions growers ask is, does this law apply to my farm? Questions about whether a farm is covered by the FSMA Produce Safety Rule regulation can seem complicated, so Extension released a brief video, FSMA Produce Safety Rule: How does it apply to my farm? It walks through the process of understanding if a farm is not covered, qualified exempt or fully covered by the rule and what those categories mean.

"This video takes a challenging topic that has generated many questions from growers and lays it out in a logical, understandable way," says Betsy Bihn, director, Produce Safety Alliance. "It allows Minnesota growers and others to understand their coverage status in seven minutes or less."

If a farm is covered by the Produce Safety Rule, a representative from the farm must attend an FSMA grower training course. The training helps farmers learn the specifics of what a covered farm must do to comply. Many farmers who do not need to attend the training do so anyway in order to learn valuable, science-based, on-farm food safety practices.

Extension works closely with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and trained fruit and vegetable farmers to deliver this information to the state's more than 3,000 produce farms.

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