We started the K-State Extension class on Food Safety by going over the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety rules. Apparently the FSMA was passed and signed into law in 2015 and has a phased compliance period. There are some exemptions, for instance because I am not yet selling more than $25,000 annually in produce over the last three years I’m exempt. I actually haven’t sold any produce yet, since my first growing season will be next spring but, as our lead instructor Cal pointed out, “If you haven’t been in business you don’t have any bad habits to un-learn”. Primarily the rule covers growers selling between $25,000 and $500,000 a year in produce (can’t wait to get to the upper end for TSL Urban Farm)!
The class is divided up into seven modules, the first being a broad overview of the six to come and the rest covering what produce is covered by the rule and what isn’t, health and hygiene, soil and soil amendments, agricultural water, wild and domesticated animals, growing, harvesting, processing and packing. The amount of information that came at us in an eight hour period really was like trying to drink from a fire hose. The good news is that you can access a lot of resources at the K-State Extension Food Safety website and the instructors are available via email and phone for follow-up questions and consultations if you have questions, which you will.
It turns out that just washing your hands properly and often when handling produce can reduce the possibility of contamination by up to 60%. We also learned that “you can’t sanitize something that isn’t clean”, seems obvious in hindsight but apparently it’s a common problem. Another thing that turns out not to be true is that putting sanitizer in wash water “washes” the produce – what it actually prevents is cross-contamination from infected food, so you get three instances of listeria from a lot of produce instead of 300 or 30,000. I also found out that in Kansas the difference between sprouts and micro-greens are that sprouts have the roots attached and micro-greens don’t. If you are growing sprouts you need a license in Kansas, growing Micro-greens, you don’t.
The best part about the class is that the materials are well organized and presented and it’s K-State’s practice to try and have at least two instructors for each class, one with practical growing knowledge and one with a more academic, scientific focus. In our class we also had a guest graduate student working on his PhD teaching the water modules. We were told that the water section is the least liked of the materials but personally I found it fascinating. I learned a lot I didn’t know about how water is classified and how risks are increased or decreased by the type of water you are using, where you are using it and how you are using it. The worst part of the class is that the instructors are mandated to verbally read each PowerPoint slide, in case there are attendees who don’t read English or read it well. Death by Droning PowerPoint presentation is a personal pet peeve of mine but I can see why they have to follow that rule and the instructors made the best of it.
Overall it was probably the best $20 I have ever spent, at the very least it was the least expensive and most productive of my educational outlays. I’ve attended lots of free workshops and webinars over the years on all kinds of topics and I can say that personally I found this one of the most useful and informative classes I’ve ever attended. I would highly recommend taking it just for the education, even if you are not planning on growing anything other than your own little backyard garden.
On a side note, I’m now signed up to be an Amazon affiliate. What that means is if you click on one of the items I have links to on the right side of the screen you will be taken to Amazon with the TSL Urban Farm affiliate code. You don’t have to purchase the book or item, anything you put in your cart and purchase after clicking through will generate a small percentage of the purchase price that will go towards maintaining the tinysustainablelife.com site and also my TSLUrbanFarm.com site that is currently in the process of being built. It doesn’t cost you any extra to shop on Amazon that way and it will go towards site fees so please think about clicking through and helping the site out with the purchases that you were going to make anyway.
Have you taken a food safety course in your area? What other classes have you taken that you have found informative or useful? I’d be interested to find out what other folks are doing.