WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. and foreign-supplier vegetable and fruit farmers who individually generate $500,000 or more in annual sales have 12 months to prepare for widespread inspections of their farms next year, after new federal food safety laws took effect Jan. 26, part of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The FSMA is the most sweeping reform of the nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, and in particular, the new Produce Safety Rule (PSR) followed seven years of study and several rounds of rulemaking before taking effect last month. The government says the new rules are a fundamental shift from reacting to food safety problems to preventing them before they occur.
State and federal regulators will focus in the coming year on educating farmers on the regulations designed to prevent foodborne illnesses that annually hit one in six Americans, killing 3,000 each year, according to the latest figures by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The PSR will give the FDA increased authority and, for the first time, establishes science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and storing of fruits and vegetables. The agency will also be allowed to recall produce and will restrict when and how raw manure can be used in growing.
Routine inspections of the large farms will not begin until the spring of 2019, the FDA said, allowing farmers and state regulators time for more guidance, training and technical assistance and planning to ensure they have the tools they need.
While the new rules now only affect the $500,000-plus farmers, small farms with sales between $250,000-$500,000 face compliance in January next year. Very small farms, with sales greater than $25,000 but under $250,000, will be regulated in January 2020.
The PSR includes five main parts: biological soil amendments; domesticated and wild animals; worker training and health and hygiene; equipment, tools and buildings; and agricultural water and testing. Sprout growers have already had to meet the requirements specific to them, established last year.
To understand the wide breadth of the food safety rules, the FDA has launched a new “FSMA landing page” online at FDA.gov to help farmers to more easily access the information.
“But make no mistake,” said Kevin Robson, of the Michigan Farm Bureau, “times are changing. The majority of our larger-scale farms have been running their farms according to the GAP (Good Agriculture Practices), which gets at the lion’s share of requirements to be FSMA-complaint.”
Shawn Bartholomew, produce and policy supervisor at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, said the new rule “is a big change. One of the big parts is that it puts foreign suppliers on the same playing field as local growers.”
The department has set up its own website to help Wisconsin farmers, at http://datcp.wi.gov
With regard to the fifth part on agricultural water and testing, after significant concerns were raised by farmers about the practice of rinsing fruits and vegetables and the test for pathogens, the FDA has established the new compliance date of Jan. 26, 2022, for the largest farms. For small and tiny farms, the new dates have been pushed to the same date in 2023 and 2024, respectively.
While there has not been a definitive reason for the extension, it’s believed by the industry this will give the agency additional time to take another look at water standards, to ensure they are feasible for farmers in all regions of the country while also protecting public health.
According to American Farm Bureau Federation, citing data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there were 6,647 farms with vegetables, melon, fruit and tree farming with sales of $500,000 or more across the country. Some 63 percent of all farms in the United States report annual sales of $500,000 or less for fruit and nuts.
With the support of the National Farmers Union and in collaboration with the FDA and the Local Food Safety Collaborative, the National Young Farmers Coalition is offering FDA-approved training and workshops across the country on the PSR. To view and register, visit https://localfoodsafety.org/trainings
And for more information on all aspects of the PSR, contact your local USDA office or visit the FDA’s website at www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/FSMA/ucm334114