Food Safety

25654244_l

A huge component of any Farm to School (F2S) program is food safety. Because fresh fruits and vegetables are typically grown outside, they are exposed to both natural and manmade elements that can provide routes for potential contamination. It is important at each point in the food chain that everyone from the grower to the food service worker be responsible and proactive for serving safe food. (It is also important to remember the benefits of consuming fresh produce outweigh the risks.)

While the Georgia Food Code requires that all food be obtained from an “approved source,” fresh produce is an exception.  Meaning, fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs may be obtained from local sources.  However, even though farmers are not required to have certifications to sell fresh produce to schools, it is always recommended to become familiar with the farmer’s agricultural and food safety practices.  Although Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Handling Practices (GHPs) are not required by law, produce should be purchased from farmers who practice or have been certified in GAPs and GHPs.

Just as produce obtained from local sources can be served in school cafeterias, so too can produce obtained from school gardens.  Of course, while serving freshly grown produce from the school garden is allowed, GAPs and GHPs must be followed to help ensure the safety of the product.

Whether your F2S program involves buying produce from a local farmer or serving food grown in your school’s garden, refer to the resources below to help ensure that you are providing only the safest and freshest produce available.  For additional information regarding food safety, contact our Food Safety Specialist, Ellen Steinberg, PhD, RD, LD at esteinberg@doe.k12.ga.us.

Wisdom from Others:

Best Practices: Handling Fresh Produce in Schools – A resource for handling all types of fresh produce, with best practices for purchasing and receiving, storage, washing and preparation, hand hygiene, and serving of fresh produce.  The resource includes a section with practices specific to melons, tomatoes, leafy greens and sprouts, from the Institute of Child Nutrition (formerly the National Food Service Management Institute).

Enhancing the Safety of Locally Grown Produce– This resource was developed by the University of Georgia, Clemson and Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and includes evaluations and self-help forms to promote better food safety practices on the farm. To find out about ordering a copy of this resource, contact the University of Georgia Extension at 706-542-3773.

A Field Guide to Salad Bars in Schools – This comprehensive document includes step-by-step instructions to help implement a salad bar to showcase fresh produce, including lessons learned, food safety and operations of the salad bar once established, from the University of Minnesota.

Fresh Produce Handling Tips for Schools – Tips about buying, storing and preparing fresh produce in a school environment, from the Oklahoma F2S program.

Buying Local – Approved Sources for Food Establishments – This guide provides information on providing safe locally produced products such as produce, meat and eggs to food establishments, from Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Food Safety Log and Worksheet Templates – These worksheets can serve as templates pertaining to documentation and record keeping that should be occurring in a typical fresh produce food safety program. This can include things such as irrigation water treatment logs, fertilizer logs, wildlife control logs, field harvest/processing/packing shed cleaning logs, a truck distribution checklist, pest and rodent control logs, cooler temperature logs with documentation of thermometer calibration, produce traceback and more, from Oklahoma Farm to School Program.

Implementing Farm to School Activities: Food Safety  This comprehensive USDA resource contains information regarding on-farm food safety, Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices, food safety and salad bars, and other topics that school districts need to consider when implementing Farm to School Activities.

Produce Safety Resources – A series of resources on produce safety that describe best practices for receiving, storing, handling and purchasing fresh and fresh-cut produce through videos, fact sheets, and PowerPoint presentations, from the Institute of Child Nutrition.

Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely – Best practices for the buying, storing and preparing of fresh produce, including a video tutorial, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Safe Food Risk Assessment – This tool is aimed toward providing risk assessment and small, direct-market fruit and vegetable producers to assess current practices and areas that need to be improved from a food safety standpoint, from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, MSU Extension and Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS).

School Garden Food Safety Training & Documentation  This resource provided by the Oregon Department of Education is designed to be printed out and placed in a binder. Not a regulatory program, but a tool to enable you to follow practices which will help you serve food from your school garden safely!