For details on the other four revised rule proposals, please see "UPDATED: FDA releases revised produce rule proposal"
Some onion growers are somewhat relieved by revisions to the proposed produce safety rule from the Food and Drug Administration, which include a provision for field curing to allow microbial die-off in place of forcing growers to meet high standards for irrigation water.
Onion growers in particular voiced opposition to the FDA’s initial proposal that required irrigation water to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for recreational water. They said such high standards were unnecessary because microbiological pathogens die off when onions are cured by leaving them in open fields for several days.
“Although I am cautiously optimistic that there will be a way for dry bulb onions to live with the (revised) proposed rule, FDA’s insistence on continuing to use the recreational water quality as the standard for irrigation water is disappointing to me,” said Kay Riley, co-owner of Snake River Produce, Nyssa, Ore., and marketing order chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.
Riley met with FDA’s deputy commissioner Mike Taylor and Samir Assar, director of produce safety at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition when they traveled to the Pacific Northwest last year to hear grower concerns and view growing and packing operations.
“In the case of dry bulb onions and many other crops there is no scientific reason for them to keep this (recreational water) standard,” Riley said after hearing of the revisions.
FDA’s Taylor told media Sept. 18 during a teleconference about the revisions that a benchmark was needed when the initial proposed produce rule was written. Assar said that 1986 EPA standard was the most recent available when the agency wrote the proposal.
However, EPA updated the recreational water standard in 2012 and the revised proposal for the produce rule uses the 2012 standard.
“The objective is to have a standard that is practical and meets safety needs,” Taylor said Sept. 18. “We are codifying a half-log per day die-off rate. For the onion growers in Eastern Oregon this will make a big difference.”
Growers will still be required to test irrigation water, which many said would be cost prohibitive and logistically difficult.
The revised proposed produce safety rule —one of four revised rules related to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 — is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register Sept. 29. It is currently available in a pre-published format. Public comments are due within 75 days of the official publication date and can be made at www.regulations.gov.