Tag Archives: food safety

Virginia Tech hops into the farm-to-glass craft beer movement

The Science of Brewing – Virginia Tech from VirginiaTech on Vimeo.


While the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has long been a steward of viniculture in the commonwealth, the advent of a state-of-the-art brewhouse and malting system at Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building 1 now allows the college to shepherd fermentation research for another lucrative market — craft beer.

The recently installed system lets students learn the latest in malting, brewing, and fermenting techniques and simultaneously fosters the university’s land-grant mission by supporting industry research in fermentation and brewing among faculty members. The announcement by Deschutes Brewery that it will anchor its East Coast location in Roanoke means the facility at Virginia Tech will also likely be integral to building industry partnerships between the university and commercial brewers.

A student spoons spent grain from the brewhouse container into a trash can while classmates look on. The professional-grade brewhouse is similar to what most craft-beer-making facilities use, but it is optimized for teaching.

A student spoons spent grain from the brewhouse container into a trash can while classmates look on. The professional-grade brewhouse is similar to what most craft-beer-making facilities use, but it is optimized for teaching.

The 250-liter, professional-grade, German-made Esau & Hueber brewhouse was designed so breweries can develop new varieties of ales and lagers while researching experimental, locally sourced ingredients without having to take their own facilities offline. The system, which can produce 66 gallons of beer in one brewing cycle, is very similar to the ones used in commercial craft brewing operations around the U.S.

The facility is also making it possible for the university to pursue global education opportunities with the Technical University of Munich, where students could put their classroom experience to use in the heart of Bavaria — a mecca for beer production.

“Our department is big on hands-on learning,” said Brian Wiersema, who oversees the brewhouse for the Department of Food Science and Technology.

The brewhouse is just one way that Virginia Tech is helping the commonwealth’s beer industry, which has an annual economic impact of more than $8 billion and contributes $2.9 billion in total annual tax receipts, according to the Beer Institute.

The brewhouse will also help make the brewing industry more environmentally friendly by developing methods to turn spent barley into plastic and fuel — which is what researchers are doing in the lab just across from the brewhouse.

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Extension is ahead of the curve on new food safety rules

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

Adrianna Vargo, director of grower services at Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub, has collaborated with Virginia Cooperative Extension to get critical information to growers regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act. Its aim is to make the food supply safer by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination problems to preventing them from occurring. The policy is the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws for both human and animal foods in 70 years.

Vargo and Extension have acted as boots-on-the-ground liaisons for more than 60 growers throughout Virginia and in North Carolina by providing critical workshops to ensure producers will be able to comply with FSMA legislation.

“One of the aspects of this legislation that has been a huge concern for growers is water testing. FSMA requires so many more water tests throughout the growing season,” Vargo said. “Extension has been an invaluable resource for training. They have been very inclusive and responsive to growers’ needs.”

While implementation of updated food safety rules could be tricky for producers and others in the food supply chain, the new FSMA rules have been on Virginia Cooperative Extension’s radar for a long time. Extension has already been training growers and listening to the challenges they could face when the new rules go into effect after a grace period over the next couple of years.

“As Extension, we see a wide variety of needs, said Amber Vallotton, the state fresh produce food safety coordinator. “We already collaborate on a lot of programs for growers that address the issues that fall under FSMA. All of the trainings have been to push the whole point of understanding risk and preventive measures.”

Laura Strawn, an assistant professor of food science and technology and produce safety specialist at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, heads up technical resources, education, and outreach for Virginia through the FSMA Southern Training Center, part of a network of USDA-funded regional centers charged with helping stakeholders comply with FSMA rules. The Southern Training Center, represented by academic and industry experts, uses a “train the trainer” model to train others about the new regulations and requirements. Ultimately, these new trainers teach the growers.

As a lead instructor in both the Produce Safety Alliance and the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance curricula, Strawn has partnered with several grower associations and commodity boards, including the Northern Neck Vegetable Growers Association and the Virginia Apple Board, as well as the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and nongovernmental organizations like the Local Food Hub to provide FSMA trainings.

“We are well-prepared for the FSMA rules affecting the produce industry here in Virginia,” Strawn said. “Over the past year alone, we have communicated with several hundred growers throughout Virginia to discuss standards and compliance dates with the FSMA rules.”

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