New Jersey a leader in food safety practices
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture leverages agency and FDA funding to promote farm food safety principles and good agricultural practices through implementation of focused education and outreach programs. The NJDA also maintains inspection programs to ensure that USDA, FDA and Jersey Fresh standards are met or exceeded. Our many roles include oversight and guidance in all areas of agricultural production. NJDA Agricultural Products Agents attend regional and national conferences, and grower events including the annual State Agricultural Convention, Jersey Fresh promotions, grower association meetings, farmers markets and fairs. Our networking helps us stay in touch with our growers and any relevant trends in produce and marketing.
The NJDA coordinates with Rutgers University Cooperative Extension to provide Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR). To date we have held 24 PSA Grower Training classes with nearly 750 attendees. PSR Inspections are mandatory FDA Inspections for all covered farms growing covered produce (raw agricultural commodities per Title 21 CFR Part 112). Inspectors evaluate the entire farm operation and all commodities grown, with the focus on preventing contamination of produce with microorganisms of public health significance. The Farm Food Safety Team has been on nearly 400 farm visits to conduct On-Farm Readiness Reviews and PSR Inspections since the implementation of the FSMA PSR program in 2018.
Implementation of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule is also contributing to produce standards for local retailers and farmers markets. Even though many of the smaller retail-based farms are exempt from PSR inspections, there are still modified requirements, which are designed to facilitate trace-back to where the produce was grown. These farms must prominently display, at the point of purchase, the name and complete business address of the farm where the produce was grown. Exempt farms are entitled to education and outreach including On-Farm Readiness Reviews, and technical assistance from our partners at Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
The NJDA and Rutgers also cooperate to provide Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Harmonized (GAP+) Audit training courses, as well as specialized training such as Food Safety Training For Blueberry Growers. The audit courses help prepare growers for USDA food safety audits. Types of voluntary third-party audits conducted by the NJDA include USDA Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices (GHP), and Harmonized Audits. Growers receive certificates for passing the audits which are required by many wholesale produce buyers and distributors. Audits differ from PSR Inspections in that they are voluntary, focused on a particular commodity grown, and evaluate the farming practices, or packing house, and sometimes both.
The NJDA created the On Farm Produce Safety website to provide efficient delivery of information on the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, PSA Grower Training, Compliance and Enforcement, and Third-Party Audits. The website also features links for Compliance Timelines, What to Expect During a Regulatory Inspection, records required by the PSR, grower and third-party audit training courses, and how to request an On-Farm Readiness Review. The NJDA used FDA grant money to purchase a packing line for cleaning and sanitizing demonstrations and collaborated with Rutgers to produce a Farm Produce Safety Video that can be accessed on the website. There is a link to a survey for those who grow, harvest, pack and hold produce. You can visit the site at www.nj.gov/agriculture/producesafety/.
The NJDA Bureau of Inspection and Grading continues to perform thousands of inspections annually of imported and domestic produce ensuring compliance with USDA Grade Standards. NJDA’s inspectors perform shipping point and terminal market inspections and issue certificates including information such as size, condition, quality, and grading of each lot. These inspections are conducted at cold storages, packing facilities, warehouses, and brokerage firms throughout the state.
Jersey Fresh is a promotional and quality grading program that began in 1984 to inform consumers about the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in New Jersey. This program enhances regional and national marketability of New Jersey commodities by providing assurance to consumers and wholesale buyers that the produce meets or exceeds U.S. No. 1 standards. Promotional materials bearing the Jersey Fresh logo ensure that the produce has been grown with the high standards consumers have come to expect. The Jersey Fresh website provides information on the participating farms, videos of chefs and their recipes, and listings for agritourism, pick-your-own farms and seasonal events. Visit www.findjerseyfresh.com.
New Jersey has experienced a spring with warmer than usual temperatures, which has gotten the crops off to a great start. Our growers are currently harvesting herbs, leafy greens, strawberries, asparagus, and other spring crops. Our New Jersey farm inventory is constantly changing, yet our numbers remain relatively constant. We have seen sales and turnover of farms, with the majority of farmland remaining in crops. The new trends include younger growers establishing new businesses and larger farms expanding with the purchase of more farm acreage. We have seen an increase in the number of indoor hydroponic and aquaponic farms growing leafy greens, microgreens, and even strawberries. We will continue to monitor trends and provide the appropriate programs and guidance to our constituents in New Jersey.
Chris Kleinguenther is chief, bureau of commodity inspection and grading for the NJDA.