Produce leaders push for universal food safety - The Packer

Produce leaders push for universal food safety

01/10/2013 05:01:00 PM
Tom Karst

In the days after the Food and Drug Administration released hundreds of pages of proposed food safety regulations for growers and food manufacturers, produce trade groups again focused on a concern they’d discussed with regulators for more than a year: exemptions for smaller growers.

While the government may create exemptions for small operations, Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications at the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said produce buyers should not because pathogens don’t care about the size of a farm.

Ray Gilmer“A better course of action for (buyers) would be to ensure their produce suppliers — large or small — are in full compliance with the new food safety standards,” Gilmer said. “In the interests of a consistent food safety standard, there can’t be an exception.”

On Jan. 4, the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA released proposals on produce safety for growers and a food facility rule designed to prevent outbreaks. Both have a comment deadline of May 16.

The produce safety rule proposes enforceable safety standards on farms, but has exemptions for smaller operations.

Also with small operation exemptions, the rule for food facilities requires companies to develop food safety plans and to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.

The Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association plans to continue a focus on education so small growers are engaged in food safety training, said Bob Whitaker, PMA chief science and technology officer.

“We wanted everybody included but it didn’t happen that way, so now we are reaching out with education,” he said.

Both national produce groups have formed committees to look at the rules and develop comments.

Gilmer said United Fresh plans a series of conference calls, Web seminars and meetings before submitting comments on the proposals.

Working groups have been formed to look at each rule, and Gilmer said a third will be organized when an imported produce rule is published.

“We will have a deliberate process over the next 120 days to make sure that we have thought through both of these laws carefully,” said David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh.

Gombas said United Fresh will look at alternatives to FDA suggestions and examine unintended consequence of the proposed regulation.

Whitaker said PMA is summarizing the rules to send to members. A technical committee and other groups will more closely look at the rules before a response is filed.

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NC  |  January, 11, 2013 at 10:51 AM

It is not necessary to implement the rules in the same way for very small growers. If you buy your food at a roadside stand or Farmer's Market, you know where you food came from. You don't need traceback stickers or coding becuase you bought it directly from the farm. Local food is the biggest growing segment in ag right now, and the big players are trying to set things up so little guys can't compete....

Steve P    
USA  |  January, 11, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Just because you know who you bought your food from does not make it safe. How do you know the local farmer washed his hands after using the bathroom, or tested his water to make sure he isnt using contaminated irrigation water? Foodborne illness doesn't effect a product based on the size of the farm or whether or not the farmer knows who is buying his crop.

OK  |  January, 11, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Machinery is difficult to steralize. Small food production does not use machinery; that is the difference between safe small production and not so safe large conglomerates. Education for all should be mandatory but focus on size for content. Cleanliness for small producers and cleanliness/machinery steralization for large production are just a sample of content. We should all be on the same page, Food Safety is paramount, the arguing point is simply extent. Everyone should be educated.

Roadside King    
New York  |  January, 11, 2013 at 01:49 PM

Most roadside stands back up to big coolers to take what they are wanting to pitch and sell it price after sale.

Chris Koger    
Lenexa, KS  |  January, 11, 2013 at 02:53 PM

Dragonfly, Many farmers market vendors and roadside stands sell product they didn't grow. Here's a case of an outbreak that puzzled health officials because a grower sold to numerous farmers markets and roadside stands but didn't have the paperwork/labels to provide traceback:

January, 12, 2013 at 08:12 AM

As the trucking industry continues to decline-take a look inside some of those reefer trailers you are shippin your produce on

Farmer Pete    
Pa.  |  January, 12, 2013 at 08:28 AM

Everything that I have heard or read is aimed at the grower, packer and processor, but what about the consumer? I was in Wall Mart the other day and watched at least 20 people in a short time pick up fruit and produce and set it back down and then someone else would pick it up and take it home. Where was those peoples hands before they picked up the produce and possible were they sick or healthy? I think we are spending billions of dollars trying to over regulate an industry that wasn't broke making it impossible for the smaller operations to stay in business. We are regulating this country right into bankruptcy. All These regulations cost you the consumer in the end. Whether that be in the form of higher taxes or higher prices for the things you buy. We are regulating the affordability of the middle class to live in this great place we call the USA. We are going to have the safest and cleanest country in the world but we won't be able to afford to live here! There has to be a happy medium.

Think People    
MI  |  January, 14, 2013 at 01:32 PM

Food safety should be a non-issue. The CDC estimates 3,000 people die from food borne illness annually while it estimates 36,000 people die from the flu. Why are we even regulating food safety? Shouldn't we first mandate all people to be vaccinated against the flu and save 36,000 lives versus 3,000? Stupidity at it best. Thanks Obama

Steve G    
Upstate NY  |  January, 15, 2013 at 09:16 AM

The reality is FSMA creates scale-appropriate ALTERNATIVE regulations for smaller scale farmers to achieve bona fide food safety, not exemptions per se. These growers understand ALL food needs to be safe in the marketplace, period. That is NOT the issue here. What is at stake is expensive regs designed for large scale growers that can easily force smaller growers out of business. Thankfully FSMA recognized one- size-does-NOT-fit-all. Regulations requiring expensive stainless steel packing tables, for instance, are inappropriate and unnecessary requirements for smaller operations -- when linoleum- covered tables are just as cleanable. And yes, farmer training is a highly important means of achieving Prevention. It would be great for Packer businesses to stand up and join the call to Congress to help provide the necessary funding -- as mandated by the Stabenow Amendment in FSMA...

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