Fresh, Safe Produce

Fresh vegetables in the produce section of the grocery

By Sandra Harbison
Photography by B. Harbison

Each year, foodborne illnesses sicken about 48 million people (one in six Americans). Roughly 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 will die, so say experts with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To combat these staggering statistics, in 2011 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law, and in 2015, the Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness (CAFSP) at the UT Institute of Agriculture’s College of Veterinary Medicine received a $1.5 million FDA grant to play a key role in supporting food safety.

Under the direction of Dr. Sharon Thompson, CAFSP will develop a food safety training program for the nation’s food inspectors to support inspections of produce farms to evaluate the adoption of new FSMA requirements as they are implemented. The intent is to reduce the occurrence of foodborne outbreaks linked to both domestic and international produce farms. FSMA aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of regulators from responding to contamination to finding effective prevention methods.

“We are partnering with New Mexico State University on our development of this training program and have assembled a strong team with experience in produce safety, instructional design and performance assessment,” Thompson says. “I am pleased that we have been given the opportunity to support FDA in this critically important endeavor that will enhance food safety in the U.S.”

In addition to developing an application for smart phones and tablets, the center will develop several online and in-person courses designed to train food safety inspectors from federal, state, local territorial and tribal agencies.

“This award puts the College of Veterinary Medicine and the UT Institute of Agriculture at the forefront of an important national and international issue,” says UTIA Chancellor Larry Arrington. “Food and its safety impact us all. To be leading the effort in preventing deadly foodborne illnesses is another example of how the Institute fulfills our mission as a land-grant university.”

CAFSP, recently awarded accreditation from the International Association for Continuing Education and Training, has developed a strong foundation and reputation for producing results. Since its inception in 2006, CAFSP has been continually funded, having administered more than $18.1 million in competitively awarded grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security, FDA, and state and local government agencies to support development and delivery of high-quality national training programs for adult learners in the workforce.