(05/14/2012)
Regional fruit and vegetable growers are encouraged to attend a training session on good handling and agricultural practices. The training take places Tuesday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. in room 1317 of the main building at WVU-Parkersburg in Parkersburg, W.Va.

The training will help food producers ensure the quality and safety of the foods they grow and market. Topics covered include everything from food safety to production and delivery.

Participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Good Handling Practices and Good Agricultural Practices program is voluntary for farmers and producers. Producers are not required to attend the training to sell produce commercially.

USDA Audit Programs like the Good Handling and Agricultural Practices verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.

This is not a certification class, but producers will learn about how to prepare for a USDA certification of a farm.

It is becoming more commonplace for large wholesale buyers to require third-party audits certifying that a farm/facility has developed and implemented a plan to minimize the risk of contamination.

Training participation could also make farmers eligible for cost-share assistance for Good Handling Practices and Good Agricultural Practices certification audits through the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Virginia Tech Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology Robert Williams will provide training and hands-on activities designed to prepare producers for audits.

This training is not designed for farmers who sell only at farmers markets and do not plan to distribute to a larger market. However, WVU Extension agents say all farmers could benefit from the information that will be covered.

"Farmers who understand the process and have the background information will know how to navigate the food safety measures required by larger markets, like supermarkets and retail distributors," said Brandy Brabham, WVU Extension Service Roane County agriculture agent.

Immediately following the training, participants and other interested producers will have their choice to attend a brief USDA Farmers Market Nutrition Program voucher training or a food handler's class. There are no additional fees for this training. However, participants must specify which training opportunities they wish to participate in when registering for the event.

Space is limited to 50 participants; pre-registration is strongly advised. To register or for more information, contact Jean Smith at the W.Va. Department of Agriculture (304-558-2210), or email jsmith@wvda.us. Pre-registration deadline is Friday, May 11.

Lunch will be provided. Meals are covered by grant funds from the WVU Health Sciences Research Center. Speaker expenses and associated participant materials will be covered by the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program administered by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

The training is provided by the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, WVU Extension Service and the WVU Health Sciences Research Center.


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