Areas of concern to the produce industry include definitions of farms and facilities, Gombas said.
Loophole for small growers?
The proposed rules require a Web seminar to explain the large and complicated zone between a farm and a facility, Gombas said. He said United Fresh wants the FDA to simplify who is required to follow the produce safety rules and the preventive controls rules.
Because scientists haven’t developed accurate E. coli testing procedures, Gombas said the FDA needs to place scientific details into accompanying guidance documents instead of in the rules.
Saying pathogens don’t know what size of farms they’re attacking, Gombas said United Fresh still contends it’s inappropriate to exempt operations simply because of size.
As only 15 or 20 of the more than 300 produce commodities have ever suffered an outbreak, United Fresh notes the proposed rules fail to address fruits and vegetables that haven’t been involved in recalls.
Because scientists don’t know why they haven’t been involved in illnesses isn’t a reason to assume they could be, as FDA now assumes, Gombas said.
Walter Ram, vice president of food safety for The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, said fresh produce has largely been exempt from regulation until FSMA but the act’s produce safety rule will represent much of that regulation.
“I think the FSMA overall will be good for the industry as long as the regulations reflect real-world situations,” Ram said.
“Our industry has already had some influence on pending regulations with the current commodity-specific food safety guidelines, including those for tomatoes, cantaloupes and leafy greens.
“The FDA got a lot right with the produce safety rule but there are still a lot of details that we are working on with them. They are being very open in talking to the industry and they are certainly listening.”
Gorny commends the industry for its safety research programs and cites industry collaboration in funding the University of California-Davis’s Center for Produce Safety’s research.
He said groups as diverse as leafy greens growers, the National Mango Board, the California Melon Research Board and the California and Washington departments of agriculture are involved.
Gorny lauded organizations including the California Citrus Quality Council, the National Watermelon Association and the California Strawberry Commission for developing national guidance documents.
He said the FDA’s Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance and Sprout Safety Alliance should help grower-shippers and processors better prepare for safety practices.