As winter approaches and produce growers begin to plan for the next crop, now is a good time to wash away any chance of food contamination in the farming operation, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist.
"The issue of food safety on the farm is important," said Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist at College Station. "We're working to educate producers about the GAPs, or good agricultural practices, and good handling practices for all the issues from harvesting to packaging.
"It's part of our life nowadays. Producers have to continue to learn for any size operation. From the small farm to the big organic or inorganic 100,000-acre operation, you have to be aware of current issues and get educated and keep up with the trends of the business."
Workshops were the first method used, showing the harvesters how to make sure the food they picked was not contaminated. However, Masabni says this did not go far enough.
"So we have a booklet available, and there is a companion online training program a person can use to get a certificate stating that they learned about proper practices to avoid the food safety issues," Masabni said.
He urged producers of all sizes to act like the larger operations and make sure they are ahead of legislation and always on the cutting edge in terms of food safety.
He pointed out that one of the most important battles was to get people involved in the food chain to wash their hands.
"The ideal hand-washing procedure is to lather with soap for 20 seconds, and I think 99 percent of the population does not lather for a whole 20 seconds with soap," he added.
Masabni said that while the course is available anytime, a good time to take it might be now, while producers are not as busy in the field. The online course allows people to start the course and either finish at one sitting or return to it as time allows. The course requires approximately three hours to complete.