About Virginia Fresh Produce Safety

Fresh produce contamination is a significant concern regardless of the produce grown, production system used, size of farm, or market outlet.  With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in January 2011, training and certification requirements were redefined for produce growers.  In 2013, VCE created an interdisciplinary Fresh Produce Food Safety Team to spearhead statewide efforts to provide comprehensive, interdisciplinary food safety education from farm to fork.

VCE’s Fresh Produce Food Safety Team works across the varied Virginia landscape with farms of all sizes, which grow vegetables, fruit, and niche produce crops, and sell to different market outlets. The Team is comprised of extension specialists, agents, and partners working to increase and strengthen internal capacity within VCE, as well as developing and delivering food safety educational programming to our many stakeholders in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia’s Fresh Produce Food Safety Team member locations throughout the Commonwealth.


The Fresh Produce Food Safety Team provides integral leadership in the planning, development, management, and delivery of extension programming research and outreach objectives.

Amber Vallotton, M.Sc. • avallott@vt.edu

Fresh Produce Food Safety Team Coordinator & Extension Specialist
School of Plant & Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech

  • Supports produce farmers in gaining market access by navigating produce food safety requirements
  • VCE lead on GAP certification preparation through consults, training, and hands-on mentoring
  • Certified Lead Trainer in the Produce Safety Alliance curriculum for FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR)
  • Leads the VCE Farm to School (F2S) Program Team and key collaborator on the F2S Regional Network
  • Supports Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) related food safety training and resource development efforts

Laura Strawn, Ph.D.Lstrawn@vt.edu

Associate Professor & Produce Safety Extension Specialist
Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech

  • Southern Regional Center for FSMA Training Lead
  • Certified Train-the-Trainer and Lead Trainer for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR)
  • Preventive Controls for Human Foods Rule (PCR) Trainer
  • Expertise in farm to fork produce safety including postharvest water management, water treatment, sanitation, environmental monitoring programs, hazard identification, risk assessment, root cause analysis
  • Applied food microbiologist, runs a research laboratory

Ashley Edwards, M.Sc.aledwards@vt.edu

Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Commercial Horticulture
Virginia Cooperative Extension- Carroll County Office

  • On-farm produce food safety assistance and food safety plan writing in Southwest Virginia
  • Co-Author of USDA GAP, HGAP, HGAP Plus+ Plan of Action Manuals and Resources
  • USDA GAP, Harmonized GAP, Harmonized GAP Plus+ certification mentoring
  • Trainer in the FDA-approved Produce Safety Alliance Curriculum for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule

Alexis Hamilton, Ph.D.ahamilton@vt.edu

Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist
Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech

  • Helps food manufacturers produce safe, high quality food products through an integrated research and extension in food processing microbiology
  • Research program identifies evidence-based approaches to meet producer needs, primarily in food manufacturing process and technologies, cleaning and sanitizing strategies, and examining the food processing microbiome
  • Extension program equips food manufacturers of all sizes with the resources they require to make science-based decisions about their operation
  • Develops resources and courses, and delivers in-person trainings required for regulatory compliance.

Joanne Jones, M.Sc.jojenki1@vt.edu 

Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension-Charlotte County

  • Supports produce farmers with GAP food safety plan writing and certification training in South Central VirginiaTrainer in the Produce Safety Alliance curriculum for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule
  • F2S Regional Network Co-Lead

Katheryn Parraga, Ph.Dkparraga@vt.edu

Extension Specialist
Virginia Seafood AREC, Virginia Tech

  • Seafood HACCP and Sanitation Control Procedures for Fish and Fishery Products Training Lead
  • Assistance with sanitation programs, good manufacturing practices, hazard analysis, and HACCP plans (development and implementation)
  • Microbiology testing to determine the quality, pathogen detection and shelf life of products
  • Development and dissemination of educational programs to improve and promote food safety in the seafood industry.
  • Consumer education to communicate importance of consumption of VA seafood products
  • Support of several food safety programs in Spanish

Steve Rideout, Ph.D.srideout@vt.edu

Professor of Plant Pathology & Extension Specialist
School of Plant & Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech

  • Works in close collaboration with Dr. Strawn on joint research
  • Provides expertise in interactions between plant- and human pathogens, as well as on-farm food safety
  • Educates agents and growers in disease management
  • Expert in Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern agricultural practices

Harry Lester Schonberger, Ph.D. • hlschon@vt.edu

Associate Extension Specialist
Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech

  • Coordinates VCE “Enhancing the safety of locally grown produce” course for small direct market produce farmers and farmers market managers
  • Certified trainer in Produce Safety Alliance curriculum for FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR).
  • Supports food donation and gleaning efforts
  • Co-leads the VCE Ensuring Safe High Quality Food Program Team

Stuart Vermaak, M.Sc. • svermaak@vt.edu

Area Food Safety Agent
Virginia Cooperative Extension-Loudoun County

  • Certified Lead Trainer in the Produce Safety Alliance curriculum for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule
  • Assists with On Farm Readiness Review Program
  • Supports other food safety training efforts

Melissa S. Wright, M.Sc. • mswright@vt.edu

Associate Extension Specialist and Director, Food Producer Technical Assistance Network
Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech

  • Food Producer Technical Assistance Network’s (FPTAN) goal is to help Virginia’s food-processing industry produce high-quality, safe and innovative food products
  • Acidified foods process authority
  • Food analysis and guidance in applicable food regulations
  • Creation of regulatory-compliant nutrition facts panels
  • Support food producers in dealing with state and federal regulatory agencies – Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Other Team Members

Jason Cooper, VCE-Rockingham, ANR Agent, ​​jbcooper@vt.edu

Roy Flanagan, VCE-Virginia Beach, ANR Agent, royf@vt.edu

Carol Haynes, VCE-Franklin, FCS Agent, haynes04@vt.edu

Scott Jerrell, VCE-Scott, ANR Agent, sjerrell@vt.edu

Bruce Jones, VCE-Appomattox, Senior ANR Agent, brjones4@vt.edu

Theresa Pittman, VCE-Accomack, ANR Agent, tmjlong@vt.edu

Stephanie Romelczyk, VCE-Westmoreland, ANR Agent, sromelcz@vt.edu

Beth Sastre, Loudoun County-Commercial Horticulturist, flores69@exchange.vt.edu

Sarah Sharpe, VCE-Greene, ANR Agent, seweaver@vt.edu

Mark Sutphin, VCE-Frederick, Horticulture Agent, masutph2@vt.edu

Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Food Safety Programming

Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), the educational outreach program of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, has a track record of providing quality, relevant, and research-based education to the Commonwealth of Virginia.