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Ag experts offer aid to midstate growers as new regs take effect

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Aug 9, 2018 6:33 PM
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Photo by Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion Online

Freshly picked peaches at Toigo Orchard, Shippensburg.

(Harrisburg) -- State agriculture officials are offering assistance to midstate farmers as new federal regulations for produce safety take effect.

New requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act were signed into law in 2016. They include a provision on keeping produce free from bacterial contamination. It's meant to help prevent incidents like the national E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in Arizona earlier this year.

Jeff Stoltzfus, a farm food safety educator with Penn State Extension, said many farmers are already taking steps to protect their product.

Now they'll have to document those steps, as well as provide extra training to staff on health and hygiene, and create a plan to minimize animal contact with crops. That includes pets like cats and dogs. 

"We are not quite at the point where we say you have to exclude them 100 percent, but you just need to be aware that if they're going to the field that they're creating potential for problems," he said. 

Stoltzfus said Penn State is partnering with the state Agriculture Department to offer free inspections and advice.

"We don't expect them to get to zero risk. We grow in an outdoor environment, it's a biological system. There's always going to be some bacterial risk, but we try to minimize the obvious situations as much as possible," Stoltzfus said.

About 30 farms, mainly in the produce-growing powerhouse of southcentral Pennsylvania, have taken advantage of the inspections. Reviews at 60 additional farms across the state are scheduled. 

Regulations are already in effect for large produce farms, defined as a farm with annual sales over $500,000. 

Medium-sized farms (annual sales between $250,000 and $500,000) have until January of 2019, while smaller farms (annual sales between $25,000 and $250,000) have until January of 2020. 

Farmers who want to arrange an On-Farm Readiness Review should contact Lynn Zakos at lzakos@pa.gov.

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