Food Safety Practices on NJ Farms

FOOD SAFETY PRACTICES ON NEW JERSEY PEACH FARMS 2014
by Wesley Kline, PhD
Agricultural Agent
Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension

Peach growers are doing their part by developing individual farm food safety plans and refining them each year. In 1999 New Jersey farmers started to implement food safety practices prompted by requests from supermarkets. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), in collaboration with Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), took the lead in developing the first statewide third-party audit system in the country to help growers evaluate their operations for food safety. This system was incorporated into the Untied States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices Audit Verification Program. Growers develop their own food safety plans to address hazards on their farms that may lead to product contamination. 

Water sources are tested to determine if they could be a source of pathogens, just as homeownershave water tested when their house is to be sold. Growers follow a stricter schedule by testing water two or three times during the growing season. All workers on the farm are trained each year on health and hygiene issues. This training informs farm workers of their responsibilities as food handlers and stresses how their personal activities can affect the safety of the food supply.

Each grower evaluates his or her farm to determine if animals or manure management practices could be a source of possible microbial contamination and then makes changes if needed. Growers clean and sanitize harvesting containers, set up a system to inspect for foreign objects in the product and ensure that the proper quality water is used for irrigation and packing.Farms evaluate their packinghouses to determine if there are opportunities for contamination during receiving, on the washing/packing line and during storage and transportation. 

food safety imagePackinghouses are also cleaned and sanitized before the season starts to removeany dirt or contamination that may have built up over the winter. Packing lines are cleaned and sanitized at the end of each day to reduce the potential for microbial contamination.It is important to ensure all harvested product is maintained at the proper temperature. Growers check their cold rooms each day to make sure that peaches are kept at recommended temperatures. Temperature control is one of the most important ways to ensure good quality produce in the market and reduce the chance for disease to develop. 

Growers are using traceability systems to be able to follow their produce from field, to the packinghouse, to the wholesale buyer and on to the supermarket. In case of the recall or foodborne illness, growers want to be able to quickly and safely remove any product from the market to protect consumers. These traceability systems allow growers to do this in a matter of hours. 

Once growers do a self-evaluation and modify their food safety plans as needed, Rutgers NJAES works with them at their request to review their food safety plans and facilities prior to the third-party audit. Many growers in New Jersey are being audited to the USDA’s “Harmonized Food Safety Standards for Field Operations and Post-harvesting Operations” standards. The NJ DA’s auditors perform the audit for USDA. Once the audit is successfully completed, the grower receives a certificate. In addition, the grower’s information is placed on the USDA website so that buyers can easily determine which farm operations have been audited. 

With the exception of Florida’s food safety practices required for tomato growers (T-GAP and T-BMP), grower participation in food safety audits is voluntary. New Jersey is a leading state, especially in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, in grower training and participation in food safety. Rutgers NJAES, in collaboration with the NJDA has trained more than 1,800 individuals since 2007 on food safety, third party audits, and train-the trainer sessions in addition to developing fact sheets, a website, manuals and writing weekly and monthly newsletter columns.