The food processing industry in Virginia is one of the commonwealth’s largest manufacturing sectors with 15% of Virginia’s total manufacturing employment. In 2013, Virginia’s food processing industry employed more than 33,900 workers, and produced more than $20.5 billion in direct economic output. Additionally, since 2003 Virginia food processing companies invested over $1.8 billion in the commonwealth and created over 6,000 new jobs. Virginia food processing businesses vary widely in size; from large internationally-recognized companies to those who produce food in their home kitchens for sale at farmer’s markets. Furthermore, there is need for companies to adapt and respond to the changing nature of food production and processing. For all levels of food processing, technical training/support is recognized as one of the more important factors for ensuring continued success (Virginia Economic Development Partnership data).
In addition to food processing, there is a growing demand for training and technical assistance for Virginia fruit and vegetable growers and handlers. Virginia has an estimated 1,562 fresh market vegetable and fruit farms that produce fruits, vegetables, and nuts with over $162 million in market value annually (USDA data). Food safety training has emerged as a primary need for those who produce fruits, vegetables, and nuts intended for fresh market sales.
Finally, foodservice providers and consumers have been recognized as an important point of intervention to improve the safety of foods consumed in Virginia. Furthermore, there is renewed interest and activity in preserving food products for non-commercial use. Both of these groups need training in current food safety practice to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of food products in the Commonwealth.