State's food safety agency adapts to 'new' hires
State officials shift to new department, similar responsibilities
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- The Domestic Marketing and Economic Development Division's loss is the Food Safety and Consumer Services Division's gain.
State budget cuts shuttered the marking division, so staff members Fred Berman, Patrice Barrentine, Tricia Kovacs and Sue Davis moved to the food safety division.
"These are talented people, who can help with all of our programs, including organic food, microbiology and dairy nutrients," said Kirk Robinson, their new boss. "We can have a little more active role in education and outreach."
Jason Kelly, communications director at WSDA, said food safety is a regulatory arm of the agency whereas domestic marketing was advisory.
"Many areas of domestic marketing involved interface between small farmers and food safety regulations," Kelly said. "There's already some continuation of such activities."
"Groups like the Puget Sound Food Network," Robinson said. "We'll continue to foster those relationships."
When the "new" faces came into his office, Robinson said, they brought with them USDA grants, some of which have a marketing component. Their focus will change somewhat to the regulatory requirements, especially food safety compliance.
"I look for a positive impact, especially for organic growers," he said. "These are folks they can talk with. The program can't be advisory, but a branch of this will be making those contacts."
The experience of the new staff members can't be overstated, Kelly said. "Patrice and Fred are full of ideas."
Kovacs' work coordinating the farm-to-school program has grant support that will continue over the next year, Robinson said. Half of her time will be dedicated to that.
Kelly said the farm-to-institutional program she will develop will keep institutional buyers up to date on their own set of food requirements and specific USDA procurement rules.
The FDA is evolving rules about food safety, Robinson said. The WSDA dovetails its rules with the FDA, following their protocols and their requirements.