UC Master Food Preserver Program
University of California
UC Master Food Preserver Program

Produce safety training ensuring continued enjoyment of specialty crops

Oakleaf, Mizuna, Red Rib Chicory, Lollo Rosa, and Lamb's Lettuce, are the names of a few of the leafy vegetables which graced my salad plate. The thinly sliced fresh red onion, juicy pomegranate kernels, and fresh citrus dressing added to the delectable ensemble. I, as well as so many other California diners, have grown accustomed to the taste-bud sensations that await us in this day of the farm-to-fork movement.

As I inhaled my salad, I couldn't help but think of the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that affected at least 24 people in the U.S. and more than 40 in Canada. Originally it was blamed on Romaine lettuce, but early in January the CDC said in a statement that the likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens. However, officials have not identified a specific type of leafy green or specifically where it originated.

A 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revealed that 46 percent of all foodborne illnesses that led to hospitalization or death between 1998 and 2008 were attributable to fresh produce. The report brought to the consumers' attention that, while fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstones of a healthy diet, when improperly handled, they can be fatal.

In spite of these sobering statistics I feel confident to continue my consumption of raw produce, in part because of the knowledge of such things as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program administered by CDFA to create and deliver educational materials for growers to assist in conducting agricultural water sampling and environmental assessments. The grant is part of an effort to help growers meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) standards for safe foods.

Ronald F. Bond collecting samples in the Salinas Valley. (Photo: M. L. Partyka)

Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) and UC Agricultural and Natural Resource (ANR) personnel - including pathologist Bennie Osburn, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alda Pires, UCCE specialist Erin DiCaprio, and WIFFS staff Heather Johnson and Ronald Bond - are developing a guide for California's mid- and small- farm specialty crop growers to meet the requirements of the PSR. Training materials, including online and face-to-face field exercises, will be developed for extension specialists and farm advisors. To facilitate the learning experience, there will be online information in multiple languages including Spanish, Hmong, Mandarin and English to meet the diverse needs of California specialty crop growers. The final step in the process will be to deliver the course materials in seven outreach workshops in those regions of California where mid- and small-sized growers are located.

With UC Davis and UC ANR working together to support California specialty crop growers as they work to meet the new compliance standards of the FSMA PSR, we can long enjoy the abundant, fresh leafy green produce produced in California's fertile valleys.

Posted on Friday, January 26, 2018 at 9:23 AM

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