URI to help R.I. farmers comply with new food safety regulations

THE UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND is offering trainings and one-on-one assistance to help local farmers comply with the regulations set out in the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011. / COURTESY URI
THE UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND is offering trainings and one-on-one assistance to help local farmers comply with the regulations set out in the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011. / COURTESY URI

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – In an effort to help local farmers comply with the regulations set out in the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011, the University of Rhode Island has offered its services to help with associated paperwork and procedures via trainings and one-on-one assistance.

Designed to combat outbreaks of food-borne illnesses such as listeria and salmonella, the law has many local food producers concerned, said Lori Pivarnik, coordinator of URI’s Food Safety Education Program.

“Farmers are nervous about it, and I’m not surprised,” she said in prepared remarks. “There is a lot of confusion about what’s actually required of them. But a lot of them have been implementing food safety strategies for a long time, so I think they’re a lot further along to meeting the requirements than they think they are.”

The R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture is responsible for the implementation of the new regulations, which URI is coordinating with to offer the training workshops for farmers to understand what to expect and what steps must be taken to be in compliance.

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Pivarnik said farmers are the last class of food producers in Rhode Island to adopt regulatory procedures.

“Every other type of food processing operation in the state is experienced with this kind of regulatory oversight,” she said in her statement, including seafood processors.

The burden of recordkeeping and the cost of implementing the new requirements are top of mind for farmers, said Pivarnik, however the most worrisome new regulation is the “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packaging and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption,” which requires farmers to address issues related to agricultural water use, worker health and hygiene, cleaning and sanitation after harvest, and soil amendments.

“Worker training is also important for produce safety … you’re only as good as your worst employee,” said Sejal Lanterman, also of the URI Food Safety Education Program, in a statement. “While some of this may be challenging to the farmer, overall it will strengthen our local food system.”

While large farms must comply with the new regulations by January 2018 and mid-sized and smaller farms by 2019 and 2020, URI will host an additional training session targeting farms of all sizes on March 21 and 22. Future training will be offered once or twice each year.

For more information, visit the URI Food Safety Education website.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, gowdey-backus@pbn.com.