CARBONDALE, Ill. — One of the first steps in helping local food producers cope with new food safety laws is figuring out what information they need.
To accomplish this, Southern Illinois University researcher Ruplal Choudary is asking producers throughout southern Illinois to complete a 15-minute survey. Their responses will help guide Choudary’s work to provide training on the new Food Safety Modernization Act laws for producers in the coming year.
“Your feedback will help us in developing educational resources on specific content areas and determining the most effective approaches in disseminating the information,” the survey states.
It asks producers to simply rank their needs based on a variety of topics. Each of these topics has a number of safety rules assigned to them.
Topics for the FSMA rules include process control, sanitation, allergens, supply chain controls and recalls — all areas with new laws that food producers will have to comply with over the next several years.
The survey also asks producers to share how they would prefer to learn about the new laws and regulations. Choudary’s survey listed 14 ways, including online courses, YouTube videos, face-to-face workshops and handouts.
“There aren’t necessarily a lot of resources readily available in this area,” Choudhary said. “Food safety is vital. An advantage small producers and processors have is that, because they are smaller, they often have more control over their process and more direct contact with employees. So that will be our first focus — changing people’s habits.”
Local producers, farmers, food specialists and others attending the Local and Regional Foods Conference on Nov. 22 in Marion were among the first to respond to the survey.
Choudhary earned a pilot project grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for $146,893 to help develop and implement training programs that will help small-scale producers and processors comply when the new rules apply to them in 2017 and 2018.
Choudhary has a three goals: to identify current food safety training programs in the area and the program gaps; to modify the curricula to teach the new regulations, emphasizing what is most relevant in the southernmost 24 counties; and to teach the courses to small growers and processors.
He’ll accomplish this with help from a small team including representatives from Rend Lake College, Shawnee Community College and University of Illinois Extension.
Choudhary is completing his own training in the new regulations. He is certified now as a lead instructor.
He plans to offer four face-to-face, low-cost training courses in the spring and summer, probably at SIU, Rend Lake College and Shawnee Community College for food processors and at least three sessions for Good Agricultural Practices certification for producers.