Food safety rule has no big surprises, experts say

01/10/2013 03:58:00 PM
Tom Karst

The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed produce safety rules are about a year late but largely conform to what industry food safety experts had been expecting from the agency.

Praising the FDA’s communication with the industry over the past year, Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said an early look at the rules reveals nothing surprising so far.

David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said the produce safety regulation focuses on the five risk factors — wildlife, soil amendments, workers, water and contact surfaces — that have been the basis of industry-created good agricultural practices since 1998.

“There is no new strange risk factor that the FDA has identified that the industry doesn’t already have procedures and policies in place for,” he said.

Gombas said the proposed produce regulation makes a clear effort to reduce the amount of mandatory paperwork.

“There is no requirement for a written (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plan), There is no requirement for a written food safety plan,” Gombas said. “As written in the proposed rule the record keeping requirements are relatively limited.”

The regulation does require tracking who has been trained, monitoring corrective action and verification records.

Whitaker approves the FDA’s decision to exclude commodities that are typically cooked from the regulation. The list has 37 commodities, including asparagus, kale, plantains, potatoes, sweet corn and sweet potatoes. The full list is on page 132 of the rule.

“They are not just looking at crop, or location or practice, they are looking at it with a more comprehensive point of view,” he said.

Gombas said the FDA’s approach to exclude produce that is most always cooked is clever and avoids the designation of high-risk and low-risk commodities.

“The term high-risk doesn’t even show up in the regulation,” he said.

Not all groups agree, however, with representatives of the Northwest tree fruit and California citrus industries pointing out that foodborne illnesses outbreaks are rare when compared to other commodities covered by the Food Safety Modernization Act rules.

Gombas said the FDA has done a good job in creating alliances to develop educational tools for the produce safety regulation. On the other hand, FDA’s enforcement efforts are yet to be determined, Gombas said. United Fresh believes Congress must provide adequate funding to implement the law.

“I don’t think that anyone wants there to be an apparent conflict of interest with industry paying for its own oversight,” he said.

The costs to fruit and vegetable growers for complying with the newly proposed produce safety regulation have been estimated by the FDA at more than $30,000 annually for large farms and about $13,000 per year for smaller farms.



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