A three-pronged program to help small growers meet food safety requirements is in the works at PrimusLabs, with a March rollout planned.

Debra Garrison, director of business development for Santa Maria, Calif.-based PrimusLabs, said the company is working with university extension offices and county Farm Bureau Federation staffs to develop and test the program. She said 10 state agriculture departments are also working on the project.

PrimusLabs program designed for smaller growers“We know a lot of smaller growers don’t have the resources and staff that larger operations have to devote to food safety plans,” Garrison said.

“We also know that there aren’t enough auditors in some regions and those are often where the smaller growers are.”

To address those issues, PrimusLabs is developing the Small Scale Local Farm Food Safety Program. Garrison said it is designed with the locally-grown movement in mind and will target growers with 100 acres or less who sell directly to local chefs, school districts, retailers and foodservice customers.

Teresa Wiemerslage, an outreach educator with the Iowa State University Extension Office, said small growers need the help. She said Nov. 14 that the ISU Extension Office has been in discussions with PrimusLabs about its new program.

About 20 produce growers Wiemerslage has been working with is one group that could benefit from the programs.

“They needed certifications to service an account,” Wiemerslage said. “But a $1,000 audit is not something that is easy for them to swallow.”

The state does not have an auditor on staff, so growers must pay to bring in auditors when they seek certification.

Such scenarios are exactly what the PrimusLabs program is designed to address, Garrison said. The program allows smaller growers to have access to a larger pool of independent third-party contract auditors who should be able to provide audits for a few hundred dollars instead of more than $1,000.

One prong of the program will help university extension programs identify, qualify and train independent third-party contract auditors by targeting graduate students and retired extension agents.

PrimusLabs already offers free materials online to help such individuals, and Garrison said those tools are the foundation of the first prong of the program. PrimusLabs plans to provide training to extension staffs at low costs, which Garrison said will basically equal the company’s travel and staff costs to conduct the training sessions.

The second prong of the Small Scale Local Farm Food Safety Program has already been beta-tested by the Yolo County (Calif.) Farm Bureau. Designed to train growers, it is a seven-hour course that can be sponsored by small co-ops, school districts and other entities that want to ensure their local suppliers have adequate food safety programs.

The course includes information about how to develop food safety programs and manuals, as well as mock audits. Garrison said participating growers will be able to submit their manuals and self-audits for review by trainers.

The third aspect of the program is intended to help growers follow through with food safety plans and better connect with customers. It includes software for personal computers and an app for mobile devices so local growers will be able to show customers what they have done in regard to food safety practices.