Fresh fruits and vegetables historically were regarded as perhaps the safest of foods. This began to change significantly in the early 1990s when outbreaks of illness caused by human pathogens were associated with the consumption of fresh produce. Consumers heard of Salmonella on fresh-market tomatoes, Cyclospora in raspberries, and E. coli on leafy greens. Within a short time, scientists concluded that any fresh produce item could potentially become contaminated with human pathogens. The emphasis on fresh produce safety gradually shifted from pesticides to microbes. While we recognize that pesticide exposure can pose a threat to consumer health, the effects usually occur over a long period of time. Microbiological illness can occur shortly after exposure to pathogens and can affect large geographical areas with illnesses and deaths sometimes occurring soon after the consumption of fresh produce. Media attention stimulated an increase in public concern for food safety.
Since fresh produce is not cooked and has no other kill step for pathogens, it became apparent that prevention of contamination is of paramount importance for produce safety. This was emphasized in the Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables published in 1998 by the US-FDA, which became known as the ‘Green Guide’ because of the document’s color scheme.
The management concepts described in the ‘Green Guide’ for soil, water, worker health and hygiene, field and facility sanitation, and worker training came to be known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). GAP includes the basic environmental, human health and sanitary operational practices that are necessary for the production of safe and wholesome fruits and vegetables. A National Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Program was formed at Cornell University in 1999 that included a focus on food safety training for domestic audiences. A parallel GAP program was envisioned by JIFSAN to target training for international audiences.
In 1999, JIFSAN held two Workshops on ‘Training Modalities and Methods, Needs and Opportunities’ in College Park, Maryland. Focus groups met to discuss and develop the program concepts. In order to best achieve a multiplier effect for JIFSAN educational programs, the train-the-trainer approach was adopted with the expectation that persons trained by JIFSAN instructors would in turn deliver their own programs in-country.
As a prelude to the JIFSAN GAP program pilot, a short program was delivered in Chile in 2000 that was a review of GAP concepts. Later that year the pilot was delivered in Trinidad with participants drawn from the eastern Caribbean region and with extensive FDA participation. This was before the invention of PowerPoint and instructors brought hundreds of slides to use for developing presentations just prior to the training program. During the next few years the presentations, case studies and other training materials were developed by individual instructors in their areas of expertise. There was little uniformity in the format. In 2005, JIFSAN instructors met again in College Park with a media design expert and adopted the use of a PowerPoint design that has been used effectively since that year.
The JIFSAN GAP program continued to evolve and over time it became a 5-day training event that included lectures, presentations from local food safety authorities, demonstrations, case study exercises for the classroom, field trips to observe production and handling practices, pre-program and post-program examinations, and a suitable evaluation process that included an assessment of the multiplier effect of programs, e.g. the number of people that our program participants actually train.
The JIFSAN GAP training program was steadily active from 2000-2017. A total of 42 programs were delivered in 18 countries through March of 2017 (see GAP/PIP Past Programs). Program locations were identified and prioritized with the guidance of US-FDA Office of International Programs. The export volume from a specific country and the number of outbreaks associated with the country’s produce were two indicators of training needs that US-FDA considered.
In the summer of 2017, the GAP program training materials were replaced by the training content developed by the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) for the Produce Safety Rule. The PSA also developed guidelines for the qualification of trainers. These and other PSA training concepts can be found on their website.
JIFSAN and PSA have now joined in a Produce International Partnership (PIP) which is the primary focus of these web pages.