The safety of our food supply is a responsibility shared by consumers, producers, sellers and handlers. Consumers have long trusted that food handlers, including producers, processors and preparers, will use procedures ensuring that food products come to the consumer clean, safe, and ready to eat. This view changed dramatically in recent years in response to terrorist activity and foodborne disease outbreaks. Because many kinds of fresh produce implicated in disease outbreaks are grown in the South (i.e. leafy greens, onions, carrots, celery, melons, berries and tomatoes), southern growers are faced with the question: "How do I know your produce is safe to eat?"
See the related story in Perspectives at http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/magazine/spring03/clean.htm
Faculty in Horticultural Science and Food Science direct a regional integrated research, teaching and extension program providing fresh produce food safety training and certification for southern industry, retail, grower and other commercial and non-commercial fresh produce handlers. Forty two cooperators, including at least one each from Horticultural Science and Food Science departments in each of the 11 southern states create and deliver (a) fresh produce food safety education, analysis, assessment, and communication of risk; (b) applied research relating sources, incidence and control measures for foodborne microbial pathogens; and (c) coordination with national integrated food safety programs and resources. This work is facilitated through a network of 150 county Agents in the region. NCSU Horticulture agents involved are Darrell E. Blackwelder, Diane Ducharme, Mac Gibbs, Al Hight, Bill Jester, Billy Little, Allan Thornton, Wick Wickliffe and Taylor Williams.
New user-developed agricultural risk management curricula, materials and self-assistance systems are helping preserve conventional, sustainable, small-scale, minority- and women-owned fresh produce farming systems in all states touched by this project. The ultimate effect of such an approach is a national impact in that safe southern produce moves to market throughout the country, again validating consumer trust in the industry.