CSU partners in new $1.2 million food safety training center

Colorado State University and five other land-grant universities in the Rocky Mountain region will partner in a 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 will focus on helping small and midsized farms and food processors in 13 Western states prevent foodborne illnesses.

Marisa Bunning
Marisa Bunning

Researchers from Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have formed a sub-regional mountain states team and will coordinate trainings in 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.

CSU heads sub-region

CSU will serve as the lead institution for the sub-region. Marisa Bunning, associate professor and Extension food safety specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, will coordinate its training and curriculum development activities. A trans-disciplinary Extension team, including Front Range Regional Specialist Martha Sullins and Boulder County Agriculture and Natural Resources Specialist Adrian Card, will help direct the Colorado training network, working with the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

The involvement of CSU’s Center for Food Safety, with the Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence, helped to develop strength in agricultural production issues and positioned Colorado to play an important role in the new endeavor.

The project, anchored in the College of Health and Human Sciences and CSU Extension, is important because the final rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will create a need for food safety training for agricultural producers and processors to understand and meet the requirements.

“Small farms and food processors have limited technical and financial means to comply with FSMA rules, unlike large farming operations and food manufacturers,” said Robert McGorrin, the center’s lead director and head of OSU’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.”

The center will also leverage existing food safety training programs with Extension, community-based organizations and food hubs and cooperatives, he added.

Customized trainings

The trainings can be customized to fit a specific crop, whether it’s hazelnuts, tree fruits, potatoes or onions, McGorrin noted.

“Unlike large-scale commodity crops such as wheat and corn, crops grown at small and medium-scale farms often have their own unique production, harvesting and processing needs,” he said.

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.

“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 grant.

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year in the U.S., foodborne diseases sicken roughly one in six people and kill 3,000.

Bunning is a member of the Colorado School of Public Health at CSU. The Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence is a joint collaboration among CSPH, CSU and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. CSU Extension provides practical education you can trust, to help people, businesses and communities solve problems, develop skills and build a better future. With offices throughout the state, residents have access to educational programs on food safety and nutrition, water quality and safety, agriculture and natural resources, horticulture, personal finance, 4-H youth development and community economic development.