Public Health Protects Kentucky's Food Supply
Warm weather means harvest time for a host of delicious fruits and vegetables, encouraging Kentuckians to add more produce to their diets.
With the added emphasis on agriculture, popularity of farmers’ markets and recent concerns related to foodborne illness and food contamination, the Kentucky Department for Public Health wants to assure the public of its critical role in Kentucky farm production and post-production processes that help to ensure a safer food supply.
“Public health is committed to protecting foods that are grown, manufactured and distributed in the commonwealth,” said William Hacker, M.D., DPH commissioner. “Through the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) program, we are able to work directly with the agricultural community on food safety issues.”
DPH follows GAPS, best practice guidelines designed by the produce industry, to help farmers apply food safety controls that, if implemented, can significantly reduce the risk of product contamination. The focus of the program includes monitoring the microbial quality of irrigation water supplies; farm worker hygiene; equipment sanitation; fertilizer application; careful consideration of land use in areas near or adjacent to food crops; and harvest equipment sanitation.
In 2007, DPH began working to promote the GAPS message to the farming community in response to the growing popularity of farmers’ markets throughout the state. The department spearheaded a multi-agency GAPS task force that consisted of the Kentucky Food Safety Branch, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and other stakeholders. The mission of the task force was to develop a voluntary GAPS education program for Kentucky farmers' market growers and producers.
Task force partners have conducted training across the commonwealth. More than 800 farmers' markets vendors have completed the voluntary GAPS education component, which includes a farm practices self-assessment as well as a GAPS education component.
“Kentucky is a leader in assembling this statewide voluntary educational program, to help further assure the safety of our grown food. Expectations are high that most - if not all - of our farmers’ markets vendors will eventually have signed on to complete this valuable food-safely training and on-farm GAPS assessment," said Guy Delius, acting director of the public health protection and safety division. "With consumer expectations for safe, locally-grown produce at an all-time high, the Kentucky Department for Public Health is pleased to be able to assist our local producers in this effort.”