We are looking into what it takes to keep our food safe in South Carolina, and what extra measures some farmers are going through, so their distributors, and the public knows the food that comes from them meets high standards.
There are already federal standards in place that are mandatory, put in place under the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2011.
There's also another voluntary program that more South Carolina farmers are taking part in. It goes above and beyond what's required, so that our food is safe from seed to plate.
Jim Alexander is a Pauline farmer who grows a little bit of everything, including okra, cabbage, squash and peppers. While he doesn't run a big operation, he says he takes food safety seriously.
Jim is also GAP certified, which stands for "good agricultural practices.” It's a voluntary program, run by the USDA that checks to make sure the food he grows is handled and stored safely to reduce contamination.
It involves a yearly audit, paperwork and day-to-day precautions. Jim's distributor sells to Upstate schools and hospitals- places that require their foods to come from a GAP certified farmer.
Jim tells us, “It’s not about how pretty your field is or how great your vegetables are, they don't care about that. Their concern is about how the product is handled from the time it leaves the plant to the time it makes it to the place of our school children.”
Andy Rollins is a County Extension Agent with Clemson and has helped guide Jim in his new career. He tells us food safety is priority number one for the farmers he knows.
“They are doing their best to comply with all the laws and regulations and they are in general, not that they don’t do anything wrong, but in general these are an extremely kind and caring group of people that really do want to do right by the people they're serving.”
Andy also points out consumers can do their part as well when it comes to food safety at home, including washing hands.
“The number one contamination for food safety issues is your own hands. Wash all your produce, even if you know where it comes from, it is always good.”
So how do you know who is GAP certified? The SC State Department of Agriculture tells us, the easiest way is to go online, and then you can see who has passed the inspections.
They point out, even if a farm is not GAP certified, it doesn't necessarily mean they're not doing things correctly, it just means they have not gone through the process and paperwork.
However, they say more farmers are getting the gap certification, because that opens the doors to more opportunities to sell to places like schools, hospitals and prisons, who only will buy from GAP certified farmers.
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