Big News on the Produce Safety Rule!

In recent months there has been a good deal of discussion, conjecture, and guesswork related to the FDA’s Produce Safety rule under FSMA (the Food Safety Modernization Act).  How will the rule be interpreted, when will guidance be released, when will FDA begin regulating, and what about the uncertainty with regard to the water testing requirements?  Fortunately just since early September 2017, there has been a lot of information made available to us.  In this article we’ll bring you up to date on the latest.

Enforcement of the Rule

In a recent update from FDA we’re told that the primary compliance dates will not change, and that the first dates will still be January 2018.  However FDA doesn’t plan to start farm inspections until 2019, allowing growers some time to get ready.  In the meantime they plan to train inspectors, educate industry members, and conduct “On-Farm Readiness Reviews”.  The FDA has already been conducting these reviews for growers in 6 states, and their intent is to help growers identify gaps in their programs to so they can ensure they have compliant programs in place.  In addition to FDA staff members these reviews will also involve state officials and cooperative extension agents from universities.

What’s New With Water Testing?

As we’ve mentioned in previous newsletter articles, FDA has been discussing the water requirements of the Produce Safety rule at great length and considering modifications.  The latest news here is that FDA has proposed an additional 2-4 years extension of compliance dates (for produce other than sprouts), in addition to the original 2 years.  What this means is that, if this proposed rule is passed, the first compliance dates for water requirements would be in 2022.

The other big piece of news with water testing is that FDA will now recognize 8 other “equivalent methodologies” for water analysis, in addition to the originally-stated method 1603.  Information about these methodologies can be found here.  This is good news because it will allow a little bit more flexibility for growers and their laboratories in analyzing water.

At this time, the best recommendation we can make for growers is to begin assessing your water distribution systems per the regulation requirements, map them out, and consider doing some testing to get a “baseline” for water quality from the sources you use.  Beyond that, we welcome questions and will do our best to help you.

Training

We always say that with any food safety program the first step to compliance is training – so that you understand what’s required.  There are continued efforts to make the Produce Safety training available to growers, including additional train-the-trainer courses and a webinar scheduled for October which will go over their plans for training opportunities.  Of course, we will continue to offer training to growers as well.  We have a number of courses scheduled for later this year, and there are a good deal of courses planned for this coming spring (see our events page for more details).  We also plan to conduct a course at Safe Food California in April 2018. (Save the date!)

Guidance from FDA on Compliance

The FDA has also issued their first guidance for growers on the rule.  The guidance is geared toward “small and very small” growers, but may serve as a valuable source of information for any grower, providing insight into how FDA plans to interpret the rule.  It includes topics such as employee health and hygiene principles, guidance on exemptions, records requirements, and guidance on other sections of the rule.  We encourage you to review it.

Hurricane Season and the Impacts of Flooding

Although this guidance is not from the FDA, the Produce Safety alliance has published a useful fact sheet related to flooding, and appropriate ways for growers to deal with the aftermath, with consideration given for the new requirements under the Produce Safety rule.  Any growers in recently flooded regions, or buyers dealing with suppliers in those areas, should consider reviewing it.

If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to sign up for FDA’s email updates about FSMA, at the bottom of this page.  And be sure to contact us if we can help you!