NMSU partners with six Rocky Mountain universities to establish food safety center

Six land-grant universities in the Rocky Mountain region, including New Mexico State University, have partnered as part of the recently funded Western Regional Food Safety Training Center at Oregon State University.

On Oct. 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the establishment of the $1.2 million center, which focuses on helping small and midsized farms and food processors in 13 western states to prevent foodborne illnesses.

“Small farms and food processors have limited technical and financial means to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act rules, unlike large farming operations and food manufacturers,” said Robert McGorrin, the center’s lead director and head of Oregon State University’s Food Science and Technology Department. “This center will provide a large number of trainers across the region with the technical assistance to help them comply with the new rules.”

Researchers from Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have formed a Mountain states sub-region team and will coordinate trainings within their states and assist in the development of region-specific food safety materials to address local production challenges. Land-grant universities within these states have long played key roles in providing outreach education and promoting better understanding of safe local agricultural production and processing practices.

NMSU will directly support these efforts coordinating through Nancy Flores, Associate Professor and Extension Food Technology Specialist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Department of Extension Family & Consumer Sciences. Additionally, development of training curriculum and other activities will be done in collaboration with Cooperative Extension Service specialists and county agents to meet the needs of producers of small specialty crops.

“Small food producers as well as large food companies must comply with some portion of the new food safety laws. We are excited to work with colleagues in the mountain states and be a resource for training and food safety tools for the regional food industry,” Flores said.

The project is important, organizers said, as the final rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act will create a need for food safety training for agricultural producers and processors to be able to understand and meet the requirements.

“It is critical that we provide relevant training and assistance to farmers, processors and wholesalers, especially to those who may struggle to meet the requirements,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which awarded the $1.2 million to fund the center.

Over the next three years, training opportunities will be available to participants from all 13 states. Proper training will enable growers and processors to be proactive and prevent or minimize foodborne illness outbreaks.

Author:  Adriana M. Chavez NMSU