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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Produce industry learns vulnerability assessment through NMSU program

LAS CRUCES - Ensuring that fresh produce grown in New Mexico reaches the consumer without contamination is a top priority for the food production industry.

The Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center is helping growers and producers to ensure their product is safe by offering training in assessing the vulnerability of their operations to the introduction of contaminants, either by accident or intentionally from outside sources.

"New Mexico State University has co-sponsored a course with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the New Mexico Office of Homeland Security that is designed to teach how to use the CARVER plus Shock assessment tool," said Billy Dictson, NMSU's director of the biosecurity office. "It was originally developed by the U.S. military to assess security vulnerability. It is the method that is most commonly used and recommended by both USDA and FDA to assess food and agriculture facilities for vulnerability."

"CARVER" stands for the factors that are assessed: "criticality, accessibility, recuperability, vulnerability, effect and recognizability."

"The system breaks down exposure and hazards into characteristics that are easily defined and can be examined independently. Most of this is common sense," Dictson said. "It asks if a contaminant is going to get into your field or processing facility, where will it most likely occur that will cause the most damage."

The training normally takes two-and-a-half days to complete, but during a recent workshop with New Mexico produce growers and processors, Dictson gave the participants an opportunity to evaluate a contamination scenario.

"It's good to bring security of your operation to the front burner. Sometimes we get so busy we don't take time to assess our operation for potential problems," said David Kasparian of Diamond K farms in Deming. "We can't afford to have anything happen that causes the consumer to lose faith in the quality of our products or the food supply."