By Billy Mitchell, FSMA Training Coordinator
A mountain of paperwork just to wash your hands. Out of control costs with no end in sight. Common sense concepts lost in a maze of regulations. For a lot of growers, these are the real and perceived barriers that come with keeping our food safe. In the past year, two partners in National Farmers Union food safety work – the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) and Cornell University – have dug in to show food safety can be practical and profitable.
Keep Poop Off the Food
Chris Blanchard, of the Farmer to Farmer podcast, had a simple mantra for food safety – keep the poop off the food. Unfortunately, it’s not always laid out that clearly. Often, you may encounter a small novel on how to implement, conduct, verify, and validate a risk assessment that considers the known hazards associated with your biological soil amendment of animal origin. If that makes sense, there’s a good chance you are either a lawyer, a food safety professional, or both! But if you got a little lost in the language, you’re in good company.
To combat this confusion, NYFC developed “A Small Farmer’s Practical Guide to Food Safety” based off of three years of interviews and visits with small farmers across the country. It takes the legalese and linguistic hoops out of food safety concepts and puts them in plain language with on-farm solutions. Our risks assessment above might be translated into “Does the wind twist and turn across your Kansas farm, blowing over your manure piles? Minimize the potential for wind to carry contamination (manure) to your lettuce fields by tarping your piles and documenting how many tarps and concrete blocks you used, and why, so your employees know for next time.”
Food Safety and Profitability
A recent study from Cornell, “Assessing the Costs and Returns of On-farm Food Safety Improvements: A Survey of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Training Participants,” indicates that despite the costs of upgrading or installing new on-farm food safety infrastructure, such improvements have long term profitability benefits. According to Elizabeth Bihn, director of the Cornell-based National Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Program and the Produce Safety Alliance, “It’s great to know that by investing in food safety, you are actually getting a market benefit.” The study, which surveyed 80 New York state farms that had previously participated in multi-day GAPs trainings, asked about the costs and financial benefits associated with food safety. Todd Schmit, the leading author found that “the relative cost burden is higher for smaller-scale producers, but they also have more relative benefits of increasing sales to new markets and buyers.”
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