October 16, 2015
With one Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) rule finalized, and another expected by the end of the month, the talk has turned to implementation. NSAC has long advocated that robust farmer education, outreach, and training are critical components to successful FSMA implementation. Particularly for produce growers, valued-added farming operations, and small food processors – many of which have never had to comply with food safety requirements of this nature before – outreach, education, and training are essential to help prepare for and adapt to FSMA’s impacts and requirements.
Background in Brief
Congress recognized this need for training when writing FSMA, and authorized the creation of the new Food Safety Outreach, Education, Training, and Technical Assistance competitive grants program (FSOP) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The program is intended to fund training and education projects that target small and mid-size farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, organic and sustainable agricultural operations, small food processors, and small fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers.
NSAC championed the inclusion of the program in FSMA and successfully advocated for a first-time appropriation for this program in FY 2015. NIFA and FDA are currently working together to get this program off the ground.
FDA and NIFA have designed the program to first fund one National and four Regional Centers that will establish the infrastructure for food safety trainings, but that will ultimately work directly with community- and farmer-based organizations that work with the intended beneficiaries of this program to carry out outreach and education activities and provide on-the-ground food safety trainings. This means that funding for this program for FY 2016 and beyond will not go to the centers, but will instead go to direct training and outreach projects.
Three of Five Centers Named
The International Food Protection Training Institute will be the National Coordination Center. IFPTI’s goal is to build competency-based training and certification systems for U.S. and international public- and private-sector food safety professionals.
Oregon State University will head the Western Regional Center, and the University of Florida will lead the Southern Regional Center.
Surprisingly – and somewhat concerning – the Southern Regional Center is designed to focus exclusively on produce safety. FSOP was specifically designed to provide trainings for farmers and small processors, including farms that may be classified as mixed-type facilities and subject to both the Produce and Preventive Controls Rule. It is critical that the Regional Centers accommodate the training needs of these diverse operations.
The Northeastern and North Center Regional Centers are being funding separately through an FDA funding announcement, which is still open for applications. We expect those centers to be awarded before the end of the year.
These five centers are intended to help build the infrastructure to support subsequent grants to training projects that provide actual training events and activities for farmers starting in FY 2016. It is our hope that – consistent with the explicit directions from Congress in the FSMA authorization for this program, and recent direction from Senate appropriators — beginning in FY 2016, with the basic infrastructure established, USDA and FDA will administer the training program as a competitively awarded grant program to fund on-the-ground training projects at the local, state, and regional level.
Along with the announcement of the National Coordination Center grant recipient, FDA released an update on the agency’s FSMA training strategy. This guidance lays out the various players involved in providing food safety training for farmers, and makes it clear there will be options for farmers and food businesses to choose from in deciding which food safety training is right for their operation. NSAC will provide more information on training options as it becomes available.