Industry participants are a bit anxious about what will happen, Mininger said.
“Folks are waiting to see what kind of complexity it’s going to add, whether it adds layers of cost and bureaucracy to the product or whether it has a degree of reasonableness about it to work within the confines of the new rules and try to work seamlessly,” he said.
Records must be produced within 24 hours of an official request from FDA.
No new records are required to be kept, but the interim rule does specify that records must be maintained for at least two years.
Farms and restaurants are excluded, but many businesses in the fresh produce industry are covered by the rule because it applies to anyone who “manufacturers, processes, packs, distributes, received, holds or imports” food.
The FDA officials stated in the Federal Register notice that they anticipate issuing a final rule one year after the close of the comment period on May 23.
“We certainly provided input,” Mininger said.
He said there has never been an incident of foodborne illness associated with bulb onions.
“We had a document that all facets of industry weighed in on and we’ve placed it in the hands of FDA and USDA and asked they consider that as a reasonable approach for our commodity,” he said.
Meanwhile, the industry continues to ensure its safety protocols and records meet all requirements, said Sherise Jones, marketing director for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, Parma, Idaho.
“Shippers from our area have worked very hard to implement traceability programs,” she said.
It’s part of day-to-day activity, said Steve Smith, president and owner of National Onion Inc., Las Cruces, N.M.
“We have it in place, and our customers know that,” he said.
Bob Hale, president of Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms LLC, said his company has taken extra steps.
“We’re one of the only farms in the nation that has passed the USDA harmonized GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) audit and have all these audits together in a super-audit,” he said.
Customers can visit the plant and fields anytime to see the operation first-hand, Hale said.
“That happens, too — our customers visit us regularly,” he said.