By Laura Funk Kopecky, Iowa Farmers Union

The sound of insects buzzing filled the air as nearly 20 participants – farmers, Iowa Farmers Union staff, and Iowa State University Extension personnel – crowded curiously around a high tunnel building bursting with the vibrant greens, yellows, and reds of a robust tomato crop. They had gathered for Iowa Farmers Union’s FSMA Field Day, held this past July in Norwalk, Iowa, to help producers learn about food safety and the various aspects of FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule.

Dave Rowen was the farmer who hosted the event. Like the other farmers present, Rowen spent the day learning how FSMA applies to his farm and discussing strategies for keeping deer that frequent his property away from his plants, therefore reducing the risk of them contaminating his produce.

One of the main goals of FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule is mitigating the risk of contamination, which can occur when human pathogens make their way on to produce. Field day participants learned about common routes of contamination on-farm, including human and animal excrement, or poop. In fact, most food safety outbreaks occur when poop is tracked into a field or packhouse via humans, animals, or contaminated water.

During the field day, presenters from Iowa State emphasized not only the importance of maintaining compliance with FSMA rules, but also exercising common sense regarding on-farm procedures to keep consumers safe. The discussion covered how to test and document the cleanliness of water used for irrigation and hand-washing.  It also covered what kinds of biological soil amendments are safe to apply, and how to keep farm employees and guests informed of safety procedures. There were a number of demonstrations, including how to set up and calibrate a spray injector to sanitize the water used for washing produce.

Attendees of the field day said they found the information both interesting and helpful. One attendee explained that it was nice to see how food safety can play into market access, and that learning how to follow FSMA and the Produce Safety Rule was a good way to feel better about their operation and their ability to provide a safe product.

Even a cursory glance through news stories involving recent outbreaks of food-borne illness illustrates just how vital it is that growers educate themselves on produce safety. The growers who attended this field day learned how to assess risk on their farms, as well as how to take steps to mitigate those risks.  Events like FSMA Field Days are a great way for farmers to get in-person advice and see practical solutions that they can use on their farm to aid in FSMA compliance. For more information on food safety, or to find out about upcoming field days and events, be sure to follow Iowa Farmers Union on Facebook and visit the website. Don’t see an event near where you live? Request an event be held near you using LFSC’s event request form!