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Are you curious if there are parts of your operation that harbor food safety risks? Identifying on-farm food safety risks is not an easy task and seemingly safe features of a farm, such as a walk-in refrigerator, can contain pathogens and lead to food safety risks. To be sure that risks are identified and addressed, in addition to attending a Maryland Good Agriculture Practices and/or a Produce Safety Rule, Food Safety Modernization Act training (both of which are recommend for produce growers), an operator can also take advantage of the University of Maryland (UMD)/Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) Environmental Sampling Program. The purpose of the Environmental Sampling Program is to identify areas of food safety concern and give operators the information they need to remedy any issues.
Justine Beaulieu, a scientist with the University of Maryland, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, conducts the free-of-charge sampling for the UMD/MDA Environmental Sampling Program. If a farmer is interested in the program, Beaulieu will visit the farm, discuss any areas of concern with the operator, and conduct the environmental sampling. After taking the samples, Beaulieu assigns codes to the samples and sends them anonymously to MDA. MDA runs the tests and sends the results to Beaulieu. This system protects the farmers involved from potential regulatory implications and provides MDA with information about the state of Maryland's farms.
After receiving the test results, Beaulieu communicates with the farmer and informs him/her of whether there are any issues of concern on the farm. Beaulieu will also work with the farmer to remedy the issue. Any farmer who receives notice of a potentially dangerous issue on a farm should take action to correct the problem. If the farmer ignores the area of concern and continues to produce food which is later found to be unsafe, the farmer involved may be found to have intentionally distributed unsafe food in violation of both state and federal law.
Considering the potential financial and legal impacts to a farm implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak, farmers who sell produce may want to consider taking advantage of the Environmental Sampling Program. Check out this past post to learn more about the legal causes of action and forms of liability a producer of food found to be the cause of foodborne illness may face.