Produce Safety Alliance trainings help Iowa growers comply with FSMA

August 2, 2019

by Leigh Adcock, communications specialist

More than 180 Iowa produce growers took a Produce Safety Alliance grower training course from ISU Extension and Outreach in 2017-18. They attended in order to learn how to comply with new federal food safety regulations. Last spring we sent them a one-year follow-up survey. (See full results.)

Eighty-nine percent of the growers who responded said they’d made at least one change to their operation as a result of the training.

A little background on FSMA

Three farmers cut seed potatoes with machines.
Mike Buske (center) operates a potato seed cutter with his brother-in-law, Mike Barkley (left) and father, Richard Buske (right). Mike has been growing vegetables commercially north of Ft. Dodge for nearly 20 years. He attended a PSA grower training offered by ISU.

Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and President Obama signed it into law in 2011. The law is the first in decades to regulate fruit and vegetable farms and handlers. It includes seven rules, one of which is the Produce Safety Rule.

The Produce Safety Rule requires produce growers who are covered under the rule to participate in an approved food safety course. The Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training at Cornell University is the only approved course at this time. ISU provided Iowa growers with nine trainings from October 2017 to March 2018.

ISU also hosts the North Central Region Center for FSMA Training, Extension, and Technical Assistance. It’s one of four regional centers funded by the US Food and Drug Administration. Its staff provides trainings and resources to farmers in 12 Midwestern states.

Some highlights from the survey

Most of the growers who attended a workshop are exempt or partially exempt from the Produce Safety Rule. That’s because they sell less than $25,000 per year of produce on average, or largely sell directly to consumers or grocery stores. Only five of the 44 survey respondents are covered by the Produce Safety Rule.

But the growers are conscientious about food safety even if the rule doesn’t apply to them. More than 60% of Iowa farmers made changes to their operation to improve food safety after taking the training, regardless of their status under FSMA. This percentage was significantly higher than the percentage of farmers making changes in other states (31%).

Ninety-six percent began or updated a food safety training program for their employees. Other changes included improvements to:

  • sanitizing food contact surfaces
  • managing wildlife or domesticated animals
  • monitoring on-farm facilities

About a third of the responding growers added or updated equipment or structures to improve food safety. Several added hand-washing stations and others added or upgraded produce washing equipment.

“The trainings promoted how food safety can make us all more profitable, even those of us that are presently exempt.”

Grower from Iowa

Resources for growers

The regional FSMA center offers a wide variety of resources online. Forty percent of responding growers said they’ve referred fellow farmers to the website since their trainings.

One grower appreciated the workshop trainers for “present[ing] FSMA in a detailed way that removed the overwhelming nature of the Act.” Another said, “We’ve made a number of changes in our practices as a result.”

If you have questions about general food safety or Good Agricultural Practices, you can find more resources on the ISU Food Safety site.

Questions? Contact our food safety specialist Teresa Wiemerslage.