The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) launched the Growing Safe Produce web platform, which will allow growers of fresh agricultural produce to access supplementary training material, free of cost, to improve their understanding and subsequent implementation of the requirements established in the safety rule governing the exportation of these products to the North America country.
The platform, accessible at https://pci.iica.int/, includes three types of training material: videos, interactive web applications and downloadable and printable resources, such as infographics and posters, which are grouped according to the various profiles of the target users on farms that produce fresh agricultural produce – owners, supervisors and farm workers.
Growing Safe Produce also has a self-assessment tool that assists farm owners, supervisors and workers in determining their compliance with the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) requirements of the United States Food Safety Modernization Act, with respect to good agricultural practices.
The extremely intuitive platform is now operational and includes all the Spanish language material. Those who wish to use the platform need only to register on the website, which can be accessed on computers and mobile devices, such as smart phones or tablets. The material will soon be available in English as well.
The content is presented in easy-to-understand language that is appropriate for workers at all levels and in any country in Latin America.
“We hope that this platform will prove extremely useful. The aim is to present regulatory information, which is often difficult to understand and implement, in a more digestible manner. We are extremely satisfied with our collaboration with IICA and the years devoted to developing this project, which will be very useful for farmers”, remarked Rita Vera, International Relations Specialist of the FDA’s Latin America Office.
The virtual launch attracted more than 520 connections and viewers were informed that the process to create the platform began in 2020, in view of a new era of agrifood safety.
During 2021-2022, a series of workshops were held to validate the website content. There were 21 workshops in Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico, with 350 participants, including farmers, managers of fresh produce companies, supervisors and workers. There were also workshops in the United States and Guatemala, in which 50 PSR specialists and instructors from 11 countries in the region participated.
José Urdaz, Manager of IICA’s Agricultural Health, Safety and Agrifood Quality Program, remarked that, “This initiative will complement the efforts of the FDA and IICA to use digital tools to build capacities and promote a culture of safety throughout the agrifood chain. As part of the existing cooperation agreement between both organizations, the aim is to develop supplementary digital training material and validate its effectiveness in increasing knowledge about safety rules governing fresh agricultural products”.
Experiences with the platform
At the Growing Safe Produce launch, users shared their experiences and the various uses they had found for the content.
Jaime Roque, manager of the farming operation, Centro Productor Agrícola El Chapoteadero de Puebla, remarked that, “The platform offers us a more thorough and appealing way to train our staff, allowing us to grow and to provide our clients with what they need, by fulfilling the necessary safety regulations. The tool has definitely hit the mark”.
María Sánchez, Safety Manager of the Center added that, “It is easy to access, and it made it easier to understand when you watch the video that explains what to do, step by step. It is important for all of us to be knowledgeable about this issue, from the owner to the workers. We were also using infographics, which were very useful”.
The safety expert of the Plant Health State Committee of Puebla, Xochitl Ruiz, outlined some of the main advantages of the platform, such as the fact that it “facilitates the development of knowledge, offers diverse educational resources, is tailored to all levels of staff working on the farm, enables interactive training and subsequent evaluation, as well as includes resources that present information on good hygiene practices”.
Lead PSR Instructor from Argentina, Roberto Varela, mentioned that, “The platform provides tools to allow users to better understand and correctly interpret the PSR. It contains basic elements on food safety and will assist in ensuring that the rule can be implemented without problems, while providing the entire region with a clearer understanding of what it is seeking to achieve. This, in turn, will ensure greater food safety that will benefit all of us”.
The Growing Safe Produce platform is expected to be available in the App Store and on Google Play in the coming months.
Although the tool mainly targets growers of fresh agricultural produce, it is also useful for extension officers, government personnel, academic and all those who wish to improve their knowledge and understanding of fresh food and vegetable safety, as it relates to good agricultural practices.
Institutional Communication Division.