Floriculture to food production: Food safety first

If you are new to or considering adding produce production to your floriculture operation, remember to think about food safety issues.

Cucumber production in a primarily floriculture greenhouse.
Cucumber production in a primarily floriculture greenhouse.

Recently, there have been numerous industry and academic articles about floriculture producers adding food production in their greenhouse ranges. For instance, “Growing edibles: The risk and the reward” by Rob Larose in Greenhouse Product News or “Will greenhouse-grown vegetables replace ornamentals in U.S. greenhouses?” by Michigan State University Extension‘s Heidi Wollaeger. Many floriculture businesses would like to produce fresh food items in order to keep their greenhouses full in off-months and keep good employees working year-round. Some are also looking to make a little more money as local and fresh produce may garner a price premium, especially when field crops are out of season locally.

If you are an experienced floriculture business considering entering into the food arena, you certainly have the expertise for growing plants, although you may need to be aware of different pests and diseases and what controls are available to treat them on food crops. For instance, you may not have dealt with tomato late blight or cucurbit powdery mildew – see “Crossing over: Vegetable diseases in the ornamental greenhouse” by A.R. Chase and Margery Daughtrey. However, you probably have never dealt with food safety issues before.

The new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law January 2011 and included extensive changes to the U.S. food safety laws. According to the FSMA website, the purpose of these changes was to “ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” According to MSU Extension’s Phil Tocco, the majority of fresh produce growers must comply with the new FSMA.

Many large buyers of produce will require additional evidence of food safety beyond FSMA. Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) certifications are the most common requirement imposed by buyers so they can be assured your business is meeting high food safety standards. There are several types of GAP certifications offered by third party companies like Primus Labs. For more information about the difference between FSMA and GAPs, see the MSU Extension article “FSMA and GAP are not the same.” FSMA and GAPs work together to address the main areas where growers have the most influence, like irrigation water quality, substrate quality, equipment sanitation and worker health and hygiene.

If all of these acronyms and regulations regarding food safety seem overwhelming, consider starting by participating in the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (MDARD) Michigan Farmers Safe Food Risk Assessment program specifically designed for small-scale food producers. The program includes a 19-page self-assessment co-authored by MSU Extension titled “Michigan’s Safe Food Risk Assessment for small, direct-market, and vegetable producers.” This program is completely voluntary and is designed to educate producers about food safety and help farmers prepare for a GAP-certified food-safety audit. For more information about the program and how to enroll, see MDARD’s Michigan Farmers Safe Food Risk Assessment website.

For more information about how to comply with FSMA or GAPs, see the FSMA website, the MSU Extension Agrifood Safety website or the National Good Agricultural Practices Program at Cornell University.

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