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First round of training set for South Carolina in June on federal food-safety law

The first round of training on the new federal food safety law is scheduled for produce growers in South Carolina on June 20-21 at the State Farmers Market in West Columbia, SC.

The accompanying state legislation to give the South Carolina Department of Agriculture authority has passed the House with only 11 dissenting votes and was poised to pass the Senate in early May. The legislation had been reviewed and endorsed by Clemson University, the South Carolina Farm Bureau and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

weathersdicksSouth Carolina Commissioner Hugh E. Weather poses with Hamilton Dicks III, head of F. H. Dicks/Melon One in Barnwell, SC.“We want the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to be the face of this new food safety law, from training our growers and food-handlers on how to comply to monitoring enforcement,” said Derek M. Underwood, assistant commissioner and head of the Consumer Protection Division. He said SCDA has restructured and staffed the regulatory departments, headed by Kelly S. Johnson, produce safety manager.

About 30 states are taking on outreach, training and regulatory services as is South Carolina under the new federal law, the Food Safety Modernization Act, Underwood said. SCDA has received a five-year federal grant of $3.5 million to strengthen partnerships and create a food-safety system, it was announced by Sourh Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh E. Weathers at a farm meeting in January. Seventy percent of the grant is for outreach activities in the early years of the grant, Underwood said.

SCDA and Clemson University, the latter with a $100,000-per-year contract under the grant, will conduct the training program. The June 20 session, which will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., will cover an introduction to produce safety, worker health and hygiene, soil, animals and land use, water, post-harvest handling and sanitation, and how to develop a farm food safety plan. The 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. session on June 21 is optional. Growers will use their laptops to begin work on their individual farm food safety plan.

The goal of the Food Safety Modernization Act is to prevent food-borne illnesses that can occur with produce by educating farmers “before and while we regulate,” said Johnson. She expects about 30 large growers to attend the June sessions, since one of the criteria for first-year compliance is large growers of certain crops with $500,000 or more in sales from produce.

In its early years, the law applies only to larger firms, but in five years every one of the more than 5,000 farms in South Carolina will be covered. The Consumer Protection Division will carry out stakeholder communications and outreach, audit assistance, enforcement support and develop a new “South Carolina Farm Inventory, Underwood said.

The new federal law was given impetus by 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths a year from food-borne illness. It is the first new food-safety law in 70 years and was signed by former President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011.