Agricultural program starts 5th year at URI

The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture are launching the fifth year of the Good Agricultural Practices program, a voluntary effort to certify safe produce handling practices at Rhode Island farms.
The contamination of spinach at commercial farms in California last year raised public awareness about the importance of safe food handling practices by growers. The GAP program aims to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses from local produce.
Farmers interested in participating in the 2007 GAP certification program are encouraged to attend an educational meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 23 from noon to 4 p.m. at the USDA office at 60 Quaker Lane, Warwick.
According to URI food safety educator Lori Pivarnik, farmers who have already become GAP certified have come to consider the program a good business practice since they know that consumers want safe food. They found that it takes little effort to follow a few common sense rules. “That’s what this program is designed to do – provide guidelines to grow, harvest, package, process and/or transport fresh fruits and vegetables that will minimize any microbial food safety hazards that could occur,” she said.
The New England-wide program was launched in 2001 after URI’s Food Safety Education Program received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The primary issues addressed with farmers are worker health and hygiene, water quality, proper use of manure and biosolids, produce handling and sanitation.
Upon farmers’ completion of training and a subsequent audit of their farm, they become GAP-certified and receive resources to help market the farm as such. Since 2002, 17 farms from throughout Rhode Island have been certified. Growers must be recertified every three years.
For more information, farmers should call Lori Pivarnik at 874-2972 or Martha Patnoad at 874-2960.

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