The Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are a network of 11 centers located throughout the state that emphasize the close working relationship between the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Inside the ARECs” highlights the work and accomplishments of these 11 centers and will appear in every Insights.
Virginia’s seafood industry is characterized by succulent and diverse fruits de mer. But behind the gastronomic delicacies is also a nimble industry that meets the demands of consumers in not only production, but also safety. Core research and extension programs at the Virginia Seafood AREC focus on seafood safety; seafood quality of wild caught and cultured animals and products; business and marketing support for the commercial and aquaculture industries, engineering, thermal processing, intensive saltwater recirculating aquaculture; and education/outreach for industry and consumers.
The Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center is an important partner in ensuring that seafood is processed safely in the commonwealth. The AREC offers food safety training to employees of commercial seafood processors. The training follows the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points guidelines, recognized through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which are a worldwide standard for commercial food processing. Employee training is critical to make certain that standards are met.
The center also offers a unique service to the industry in Spanish language training, which helps ensure that employees are able to understand the importance of food safety in the processing operations.
“Even though employees’ level of expertise may be high, aspects of some procedures may get lost in translation,” said Abigail Villalba, food safety specialist at the Virginia Seafood AREC. “By participating in these trainings processors can control their hazards and remain competitive by manufacturing products that are safe and wholesome.”
The AREC began offering HACCP classroom training in Spanish in 2007 in an effort to accommodate employers who staffed an increasingly Spanish-speaking workforce.
In 2015, Villalba held six training sessions with a total of 114 participants from around the region.
The center’s role will take on even more significance as updates to the Food Modernization Safety Act are implemented later this year in September. One of the major changes to the act is that there is the Preventive Controls Rule for Human and Animal Food, which is all encompassing and touches everyone from pet food manufacturers to food retailers such as McDonald’s to small producers. These new rules will go beyond control points of contamination and focus on prevention.
According to Villalba, implementation will happen slowly, but she is already planning on meeting the needs for increased training of the new FSMA rules with more classes and increased online trainings available to clients.
“The private sector is recognizing now that Virginia Tech is an excellent resource for not only food handling training, but also reaching a diverse population including Spanish speakers.”