By: Billy Mitchell, edited by Hayley Wood
The International Association for Food Protection, a member-based association of more than 4,500 food safety professionals, hosted its annual meeting this past July in Toronto. The conference is a chance for food safety professionals, students, industry members, and enthusiasts to immerse themselves in current food safety issues and information. It’s also a chance for old and new friends to gather and catch up, strengthening the informal and formal bonds that strengthen agricultural and food safety communities. An attendee can spend time in deep conversation at a poster session learning about the latest Cyclospora research or at lunch hearing about a colleague’s adventures in canning tomatoes from their garden. At this past meeting, there were over 3,200 attendees from six different continents.
Friends, collaborators, staff, and sub-recipients of the Local Food Safety Collaborative (LFSC) – a collaboration between the National Farmers Union Foundation and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that provides food safety training, education, and outreach to local producers and processors – were present at many of the sessions. There were many great sessions at IAFP, and we’ll only be able to highlight a few. For a complete look, please visit the IAFP 2023 Annual Meeting website for a program booklet, photos, recordings, and more.
Tuesday morning started with the session “The Importance of Diversity in Building Large Integrated Food Safety Initiatives and Projects,” which was organized by Benjamin Chapman from the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at North Carolina State University and Lawrence Goodridge from the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph. Chapman and Goodridge, whose friendship was evident from the way they bantered on the stage, organized the session to discuss the benefits of ensuring teams and projects have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that represent and can meet real-world food safety challenges. They also wanted to address the barriers and roadblocks that can arise from integrating diverse teams and the need to work through those barriers no matter how difficult they may be. Chapman, who has presented about the value of science communication for an LFSC webinar, was joined on stage by Mark Carter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) program, Byron Chaves who is Assistant Professor and Food Safety Extension Specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Michelle Danyluk who is a Professor of Food Science at the University of Florida. Both Chaves and Danyluk provide invaluable insight as members of the LFSC steering committee. A few themes emerged as the panelists shared their perspectives and chatted across the table. It’s not enough to create a diverse team to check a box; it’s essential to make meaningful collaboration and work to ensure that diversity is inclusive and strengthens the team. That means getting to know each organization’s capacity and interests, being intentional with who you are working with, and being aware of who you are not. What can be done to bring more voices to the table? For Chaves, that means placing his department’s commitment to diversity front and center on their website. Their values statement, “We value the contributions of each person and strive to make each interaction matter. We are committed to engaging in practices that demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusive excellence,” is at the top of the website to help communicate the importance they place on valuing diversity of people and practices.
The session “Produce Safety Education and Extension Outreach Efforts Targeting Spanish-Speaking Communities in the United States,” organized by Davis Blasini and Mariana Villarreal Silva of Cornell University and the Produce Safety Alliance, focused on engaging and developing effective ways to communicate with Spanish-speaking agricultural communities. In areas where the produce industry is strong, these communities are often a significant and integral percentage of farm workers, owners, and managers. The panel, which featured Alexandra Cortes of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Jacqueline Gordon of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Afreen Malik of the Western Growers Association, Sergio Nieto-Montenegro of Food Safety Consulting & Training Solutions, LLC, and Valentin Sierra of Amigo Farms, Inc., addressed that while translating resources from English to Spanish is an essential first step, more is needed to meaningfully reach and educate Spanish-speaking communities. Nieto-Montenegro, who has collaborated with LFSC to develop resources and provides feedback as a member of its steering committee, shared the importance of meeting people where they are and providing a suitable environment for educational and community-building sessions. That includes bringing a positive attitude to the session, something Nieto-Montenegro showcased as the audience nodded along and laughed as he shared his experiences and stories, and providing culturally relevant and great-tasting food. A lesson for reaching any community! If you don’t want to be there and the location and food are an afterthought, it will be hard for the community to also want to be there. Gordon demonstrated the openness of the food safety community, sharing how she has found success working with growers and organizations in the field and offering resources from her organization for other educators to use. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the session was being willing to engage with communities and really listen to what they need; a five-minute check-in may be more impactful than a five-hour training and meeting growers out in the field rather than requiring them to travel to you can show your commitment to truly understanding their needs and meeting those needs with practical – and positive – solutions.
The session “Food Safety Extension Efforts for Small-Scale Urban Agriculture,” organized by Collins Bugingo, Laura Pineda-Bermudez, and Mariana Villarreal Silva of Cornell University and the Produce Safety Alliance, focused on a type of agriculture that has been increasing over the past decade – urban agriculture. This type of agriculture is found in urban and suburban settings and can include warehouse and rooftop farms, community gardens, and hydroponic and aquaponic growing operations. Most of this produce is sold directly to consumers, and the session aimed to highlight that often diverse communities, by income, ethnicity, and race, are both the consumers of the produce and the workforce that grows, harvests, and packs the produce. Like the previous sessions, this session noted great potential in engaging with these communities through extension and outreach. There are unique challenges working with farms in these environments, and the farmers themselves, may face. The panelists, who included E’licia Chaverest of the Alabama A&M Small Farm Research Center, Rachel Kimpton from the University of Minnesota Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers Program, Camila Rodrigues, an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist at Auburn University, Ashlee Skinner, an Extension Program Specialist at the University of Florida, and Arlene Throness who manages the Toronto Metropolitan University urban farm. Chaverest, who has been an integral part of LFSC work in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, spoke about the importance of investing time in reaching out to your audience and understanding their needs. An Eventbrite may not be enough to get the word out! Chaverest takes the time to understand the current and historical challenges that the growers she works with face and also gets to know what they are most interested in learning about and how they like to learn. Farm tours and on-farm education is a vital component of that work. Kimpton uses her experience as an urban grower to connect with this audience. Rodrigues focuses not just on the risks that growers can reduce with food safety practices but also the benefits, like marketing, sales, and building strong community relationships, that these practices can bring. Each panelist stressed the importance of seeing these operations in person. Throness invited panelists on an impromptu farm tour after the session to see what rooftop farming looks like in Toronto.
The local food safety collaborative often highlights the importance of community among local food processors and producers; that same importance of community among food safety advocates could be found at IAFP. If you’d like to expand your food safety knowledge and community, please take a look at their website, the journal Food Protection Trends, and take some time to explore the program booklet from this year’s conference.
For more food safety resources, visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website and the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow LFSC on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.
This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award TBD totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS or the U.S. Government.