SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Immigration has been the hot topic at Texas Produce Conventions in recent years, but food safety and traceability issues trumped it this year, as growers and importers await food safety legislation from Congress, Food and Drug Administration regulations, and input from the Produce Traceability Initiative.
“Everyone is scrambling to put together programs and wrestling with what’s happening both legislatively and with the FDA,” Texas Produce Association president John McClung said.
The convention, Aug. 11-13, attracted about 350 people, McClung said.
Michelle Smith, senior policy analyst with the Food and Drug Administration, told convention attendees Aug. 12 that the agency’s preventive food safety controls for fresh produce will not be published this year as originally intended. The FDA’s next move is to consider more than 700 comments received from the industry and other sources following the recently ended public comment period, as well as testimony from hearings in 13 states.
“It’s a massive effort to sort through every comment, and each comment has a host of issues,” said Smith, who replaced FDA deputy commissioner for foods Michael Taylor as a speaker due to a schedule conflict.
The input is critical, she said, because the agency wants to be more than “well intentioned,” but also “well informed.”
Despite prodding from several audience members, Smith said she was unable to pinpoint when the FDA’s food safety for fresh produce guidelines will be announced.
The regulations are not intended to mandate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point systems at the farm level, but they will be risk-based, scale-appropriate and reflect as much as possible current best practices.
“This will be one of the most technically challenging (initiatives) the FDA has embarked upon,” because of the completely distinct specialty crops to be covered by the regulations, Smith said.