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Mar 03

Iowa State University to host regional center for food safety, receives FDA grant

iowa-state-universityAMES, Iowa – Iowa State University will become a regional center for food safety in an effort to help businesses that grow and process food comply with new federal regulations in the coming years.

The federal Food and Drug Administration awarded Iowa State a three-year, $950,000 grant to establish the new North Central Regional Center for Food Safety Training, which will provide guidance to food processors and growers in 12 Midwestern states.

Angela Shaw, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, will lead the effort to get the regional center off the ground. Shaw said food safety has grown as a topic of concern for the American public, and the food safety regulations needed to be modernized.

“We’re able to document more foodborne outbreaks now as detection and health care technology have improved,” Shaw said. “And social media and news media have helped food safety grow in stature as an important issue to people. Food safety rules should reflect those changes.”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011, aims to strengthen the U.S. food safety system by preventing foodborne outbreaks before they occur. The produce safety rule, one of seven major rules under FSMA, requires fruit and vegetable growers to meet science-based minimum standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. FSMA also establishes a national center and four regional centers – which includes the new center at Iowa State – to help guide companies that will have to comply with the law.

Shaw said the size of a firm determines the date on which it will need to comply with one of the law’s major rules. The largest companies will have to make a deadline in September, while the smallest firms have about four years. She said large companies will be able to devote the necessary resources to make the transition, but small companies likely will need the most help in updating under the new rule.

“This is going to be a feat for large companies to comply with the new rule, but they’ll have the money and the personnel to help them get there,” she said. “The smaller firms will have a harder time getting fully compliant because they don’t have access to the same kind of resources.”

Companies will have to update their recordkeeping and training policies regarding food safety, Shaw said.

But in order to help companies make those changes, Shaw said the first step for the regional center will be to reach out to the firms that will have to comply with the new rules for a needs assessment. Catherine Strohbehn, an adjunct professor of apparel, events and hospitality management, and Linda Naeve, an extension program specialist in value added agriculture, also will contribute to the effort.

Shaw said the new center fits well with Iowa State’s land-grant mission.

“This undertaking will be very research based,” she said. “We’ll have a very robust outreach effort to work with the companies, and we’ll also be working with the other regional centers to see what sort of overlap exists.”

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