(Oct. 22) The University of Florida-Gainesville has received a $253,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crops block grant to train workers and tomato growers in good agricultural practices.

The grant will provide the state’s 30,000 farm workers, growers and packers with training through workshops, educational literature and food-safety materials developed at Cornell University, said Keith Schneider, associate professor in the University of Florida’s department of food science and nutrition.

All materials are provided free, Schneider said Oct. 15.

Schneider said most tomato growers are already following methods established by the National GAP program, coordinated by the department of food science at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

Twenty-seven states offer similar programs to growers.

Schneider said the University of Florida, which has conducted GAP food safety training for seven years, wants to make sure every worker has received verifiable, documented training.

He said the block grant would help the university develop a curriculum in several languages and to improve its delivery to the fields.

The Florida Tomato Exchange, Maitland, has been working for three years with the industry, the University of Florida, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and USDA to come up with food safety practices.

The exchange voted in September 2006 to implement the Tomato Good Agricultural Practices and Tomato Best Management Practices for the fresh tomato industry in Florida.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said changes to state law enacted during the 2006 legislative session delayed the adoption of the programs.