Partnership with Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria Aims to Tackle Food Safety Challenges
Each year an estimated 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A two-year collaborative project between professors at Cal Poly and Allan Hancock College, a community college in Santa Maria, aims to reduce that number.
Three Cal Poly professors representing diverse areas of discipline in Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture Food and Environmental Sciences have formed a partnership with Allan Hancock College to train socially-disadvantaged farmers in food safety compliance. The project is funded by a $214,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Agribusiness Professor Jeta Rudi Polloshka, an applied economist, is heading the two-year project at Cal Poly, which will develop and implement a training program for leafy green farmers in the Santa Maria region in compliance of the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2011.
“Given the recent prominent food safety outbreaks involving romaine lettuce and the importance of the leafy greens industry to California, we will work specifically with operators of small and very small leafy greens farms in the Santa Maria Valley,” Polloshka said. “We hope to work with operators of Hispanic origin, given the documented challenges they face in developing regulation compliance due to barriers in language, education, and other resources.”
Cal Poly professors Amanda Lathrop, food science, and Karen Cannon, agricultural communication, will address produce safety plans and food safety communications aspects of the project. Allan Hancock Professor Erin Krier, who coordinates the community college’s agriculture program, is also collaborating with the group.
The partnership with Allan Hancock College will help to facilitate the connection with growers in the Santa Maria region.
“Allan Hancock College is really excited to partner with Cal Poly for this project,” Krier said. “In addition to assisting small and underserved leafy green vegetable growers in the Santa Maria Valley, this project will provide our students an extremely valuable and unique opportunity. Our students will not only acquire technical food safety skills but will also participate in farmer outreach and learn essential communication and agriculture advocacy skills that will benefit them in both the workplace and in the pursuit of higher degrees from a four-year university.”
The team will train Cal Poly and Allan Hancock College students in an interdisciplinary approach to food safety, increasing capacities of future food safety experts in the state. A food safety training following the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) model will be offered to growers and students. In addition, individually tailored comprehensive food safety trainings and field visits will be offered to as many as 15 leafy green farmers in the Santa Maria Valley. Additional workshops will be offered on marketing and agribusiness tools related to food safety and best practices for crisis communication should a food borne illness outbreak occur.
“California is the leading producer of leafy greens in the nation,” Cannon said. “As a team, the combination of our areas of expertise, our geographic location near the Santa Maria Valley, and the industry collaborations our institutions are known for means we’re uniquely positioned to create and deliver this programming.”
“We will be in the fields,” added Polloshka, “working with farmers at their operations, addressing their specific challenges. Our outreach program is unique, as it integrates food safety compliance training with crisis communication and agribusiness tools. Our goal is to reach as many farmers as possible and to help both consumers and producers.”