Public food safety on the front burner for Extension

photoBy Susan Felker

Virginia Cooperative Extension is expanding its food safety programs by adding area specialized food safety agents. These agents will help develop and deliver education programs to the general public, farmers, wholesalers, food producers, and vendors, as well as to places where food for the public is handled, such as restaurants, fairs, and community events.

“There are already Extension agents across the state who have food safety as part of their responsibilities, but we haven’t had agents just focusing on food safety,” said Renee Boyer, consumer food safety specialist and associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology.

Eric Bowen, who serves the Central District from his office in Nottoway, Va., began work as the first new regional food safety Extension agent in September 2012. Joell Eifert began her position as the Southwest District’s food safety agent in March.

“We are very pleased to add an area specialized food safety agent position to the team,” said Central District Director Dan Goerlich. “These agents will work closely with Extension agents in all program areas to address interests and needs brought forth by our clients and local government partners. Food safety starts in the field and continues to the dining room table. We try to help Virginians at every step of the way.”

The six primary training programs offered by the new agents, which were developed in collaboration with government agencies, other universities, and industry, include:

  • ServSafe food safety management course and certification testing is offered for restaurant managers (including chefs) along with a short ServSafe course for food handlers.
  • Cooking for crowds trains those who sell food at fairs, festivals, and other public events.
  • Starting a home food-based business guides Virginians who would like to start new value-added food businesses and those who are new food entrepreneurs.
  • Home food preservation teaches safe practices for canning, drying, pickling, and freezing for homeowners.
  • Enhancing the safety of locally grown produce training targets local farmers and farmers market managers as a joint venture between Virginia Cooperative Extension, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and Clemson University Cooperative Extension in South Carolina.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices education and training targets vegetable producers desiring to obtain GAP certification through the federal program.

According to Boyer, the food safety agents will also provide training in procedures for producing safe  food, as stipulated under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

“We don’t have a timeline for the other positions yet, but we will be supporting the district directors in their efforts,” Boyer said.

For more information on these and other food safety programs, contact your local Extension office or visit