The Food Safety Modernization Act took another step toward implementation in early January when the Food and Drug Administration released for public comment proposed rules on Preventive Controls for Human Food and Standards for Produce Safety.
The proposals build on existing voluntary industry guidelines for food safety, which many producers, growers and others currently follow. The FDA expects to soon issue its proposed rule on importer foreign supplier verification, and future proposed rules will address preventive controls for accreditation of third-party auditors.
All produce shipped to the U.S. will have to comply with the rule, which covers all fruits and vegetables “except those rarely consumed raw, produced for personal consumption, or destined for commercial processing that will reduce microorganisms of public health concern,” the FDA says.
The law exempts smaller growing and processing operations that fall below an annual income threshold of $500,000 for the past three years.
The industry will scrutinize the rules, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications with the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association
“We have a comment period of about four months, and we’re going to just run over them with a fine-tooth comb and make some comments back,” he said.
The task of reading hundreds of pages of new rules might be intimidating, Gilmer said.
It’s a major task for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, as well, said Hank Giclas, senior vice president for science, technology and strategic planning.
“At the same time, we’re looking at specifically what are some things we can do to take food safety predictions to the next level by, say, for example, trying to facilitate sharing of data and information across industry peers to be able to look for gaps and maybe understand more about if contamination occurs, where is it occurring and why, and if it’s growing where and why,” he said.
The rules likely will hit smaller growers hardest, even with an exemption in place, said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of grower-shipper Wish Farms and traceback and data software system VirtualOne in Plant City, Fla.
“The larger players are already doing the things that are important for food safety and traceability,” he said.
Wishnatzki said small operators should emphasize that all industry participants, regardless of scale, are “going about things in a safe manner and know the rules are science-based and not just based on somebody’s size.”