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Produce Safety University: Supporting a Healthier Next Generation through School Food Safety!

Posted by Brenda Halbrook, Director, Office of Food Safety for the Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition Health and Safety
Mar 19, 2014
PSU students interact with a local farmer during one of the program’s field trips.
PSU students interact with a local farmer during one of the program’s field trips.

Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children.  To reinforce that value, USDA is constantly working to ensure that kids are only being served safe, high quality meals.   That’s why we launched Produce Safety University (PSU) in 2010, to address the food safety issues related to fresh produce, particularly as it pertains to school food service.

A joint venture between USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service, PSU conducts five week-long classes each year to instruct school nutrition professionals and State Agency program directors.  The sessions focus on facts about the produce industry, produce safety, and produce use in school foodservice.  Last week we wrapped up our first session of 2014, at this highly informative event in Fredericksburg, Va.

Since schools are increasing the amount of fresh produce provided to their students, the training naturally attracts a great deal of interest.  And while fresh produce provides countless benefits, it must be handled safely to reduce the risk of food borne illness.  Harmful bacteria can reside in soil or water and come in contact with fresh produce at any point during growth, harvest, processing transportation, storage, preparation, or service.  And that’s why this education is so essential!

The curriculum addresses how to apply safety standards, including good agricultural practices, negotiations with local farmers, and ways to write specifications for both fresh and fresh-cut produce.  For those who have received Farm to School grants, PSU provides advice to help them establish Farm to School programs within their respective school districts.

Students receive materials to use at regional, state, and local trainings to include the key topics addressed during the PSU classes.  And by the end of fiscal year 2014, USDA will have trained some 750 school nutrition professionals over a four-year period.

USDA works tirelessly to support a healthier next generation, and ensuring food safety for our future leaders is an important step in that direction.