Regional fruit and vegetable growers are encouraged to attend a food handling and agricultural practices training slated 9 a.m.-5p.m. May 15 at the main building in WVU-Parkersburg.

Training will help food producers ensure quality and safety of foods they grow and market. Topics will include everything from food safety to production and delivery.

The program, which is part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture audit program, also will verify fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored in the safest manner to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.

Training is provided by the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, WVU Extension Service and the WVU Health Sciences Research Center.

Training is not designed for farmers who sell only at farmers markets and do not plan to distribute to a larger market. However, WVU extension agents say all farmers could benefit from the covered information.

Producers are not required to attend the training to sell produce commercially. The program is not a certification class, but producers will learn how to prepare for a USDA certification of a farm.

Training participation could also make farmers eligible for cost-share assistance for Good Handling Practices and Good Agricultural Practices certification audits through the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Virginia Tech Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology Robert Williams will provide training and hands-on activities designed to prepare producers for audits.

Attendees also can voluntarily attend a brief USDA Farmers Market Nutrition Program voucher training or food handler class that immediately follows the training.

There are no additional fees for the training. However, participants must specify what training opportunities they wish to participate when registering for the event.

Space is limited to 50 participants and pre-registration is strongly advised. The pre-registration deadline is May 11.

To register, contact Jean Smith at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture at 304-558-2210 or email at jsmith@wvda.us.

http://www.statejournal.com/story/18153597/regional-produce-growers-offered-food-handling-and-agricultural-practices-training