Writer: Mickelle C. Spendlove
LAS CRUCES - Advisory audits and an information workshop are two of the ways New Mexico fruit and vegetable vendors will prepare for changes ahead.
A Good Agricultural Practices workshop will be held July 20 for produce growers to get ready for the new required handling practices set to take effect next year.
Sponsors from around the state will host the GAPs workshop in Santa Fe to inform fruit and orchard producers, farmer's market vegetable growers and certified organic growers about the new standards that must be met.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that produce vendors follow particular guidelines with respect to food safety. Currently growers are required to meet the standard of Good Handling Practices. On May 31 the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service announced that growers will have to receive GAP certification as well by July 1, 2007.
According to Nancy Flores, an Extension food technology specialist for New Mexico State University, "This action is a clear indication of things to come." It is necessary that even small farmers meet rising standards.
Presenters of the workshop include Flores, Del Jimenez, Roy Pennock Jr. and Ron Walser, of NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, and Craig Mapel, of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. Jimenez, Pennock, Walser and Mapel have provided GAPs training to New Mexico farmers for the last two years. They encourage small acreage growers as well as Extension personnel to attend the event.
The goal of the workshop is to provide the framework for a GAPs food safety plan that participants can easily adapt to their own farming operation. The day-long event will feature an overview of GAPs and discussion of an array of topics including manure, compost use, animals and worker hygiene. Additional presentations will cover water use, harvest sanitation, post harvest handling, crop risk assessment, GAPs resource information, farm assessment and record keeping.
The workshop will be from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Santa Fe Cooperative Extension Service Office's exhibit hall. A registration fee of $25 includes lunch. Participants are asked to pre-register before July 14 by contacting Gloria Hernandez with NMSU at (505) 646-2198 or register in person with Pat Torres at the Santa Fe County Extension Office.
Food safety programs, like GAPs, have already been implemented by many fresh fruit and vegetable growers as a means to address consumer concerns about food safety. Many retailers have begun to require that farms are inspected by third parties to ensure that foods are grown, harvested and packaged using GAPs.
Because these inspections will become an annual requirement in 2007, the USDA Fresh Products Branch will conduct audits on an advisory basis beginning July 1 of this year. Audits will only be performed for fruit and vegetable vendors currently doing business with the USDA. No contract action will be taken as a result of the audits. They will be designed to assist vendors in identifying vulnerable areas that need corrective actions prior to the mandatory GAP and GHP audit.
All services provided by the Fresh Products Branch are on a cost-recovery basis and fees will be charged at $75 per hour. For more information about the food security audits, contact Kathy Staley, head of the Fresh Products Branch Field Operation, at 800-811-2373.
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