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.