Tag Archives: USDA

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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Looking for clues about disease affecting cattle and people

Clay Caswell (left), assistant professor of bacteriology, seeks to better understand brucellosis with Ph.D. students James Budnick and Lauren Sheehan.

Clay Caswell (left), assistant professor of bacteriology, seeks to better understand brucellosis with Ph.D. students James Budnick and Lauren Sheehan.

A Virginia Tech researcher is hoping to better understand a bacterium responsible for both spontaneous abortions in cattle and an inconsistent and sometimes fatal fever in humans.

Clay Caswell, assistant professor of bacteriology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and an affiliate of the Fralin Life Science Institute, has focused his attention on Brucella. While his colleagues at the veterinary college have spent years developing more-effective vaccines, Caswell is taking a different approach to better understand the molecular basis for Brucella infection.

Brucella lives inside a host immune cell called a ‘macrophage,’ “ said Caswell, who is studying how two small regulatory RNAs allow the bacterium to survive there. “The paradox is that it’s living inside the very cell that’s trying to destroy it.”

Caswell has received funding from the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station to characterize a novel genetic pathway linked to the bacterium’s virulence. He has also been awarded recent grants from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health to develop the basic science needed to develop treatments in humans who are exposed through unpasteurized milk and other means.

“Brucellosis is the most common zoonosis in the world,” Caswell said. There is no human vaccine for the disease, which infects approximately 500,000 people worldwide every year.

“It is very hard to treat, often requiring two rounds of antibiotics, with a relapse rate of up to 15 percent and the potential for chronic infections. It has a low mortality rate, but when it is fatal, it is often due to a heart infection,” Caswell said.

Other researchers at the veterinary college are developing more-effective brucellosis vaccines for cattle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted a provisional license for a vaccine developed by Gerhardt Schurig, professor of immunology and former dean, in 1996 and a full license in 2001. Today, the cattle vaccine developed at the veterinary college is used by farmers and veterinarians worldwide.

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