Q&A | Tom O'Brien, Produce Marketing Association

12/16/2011 09:08:00 AM
Tom Karst

The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Dec. 14 with Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C., representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.
4:07 p.m. Tom Karst: Food safety is looming larger and larger. What is your sense of the FDA produce safety regulation? What do you expect when that comes out?
4:07 p.m. Tom O’Brien: I think it is important to remember that it is not just the produce rule. You are right, that is huge. There is the produce rule, and around the same time it comes out there will be a proposed rule on preventative controls and a proposed rule on imports. So it is going to be a busy first quarter and first half of the year. 
The most important thing will be to identify where the agency didn’t get it right and put together arguments and persuasions that will convince them that if they didn’t get something right they will take a new fresh look at it based on the comments and the hearings they will hold. 
So it will be interesting when it actually gets published to go through it. FDA has done a lot of work, a lot of outreach to PMA and others, but pretty soon we will get to see the details.
4:08 p.m. Karst: You talk about preventative controls. As you understand it, what will be the scope of that regulation?
4:09 p.m. O’Brien: If you remember, a lot of the Food Safety Modernization Act keeps the sort of nomenclature of the 2002 Bioterrorism Act and the registration requirements. So there are farms and there are facilities. Facilities are mainly everything else that handles food, with some exceptions. But most of those facilities will have to have food safety plans, have identified risks and adopted preventative controls to mitigate those risks to food safety. 
It is not supposed to be very prescriptive. It is supposed to be based an individual look at his own facility, but that is my understanding of it. The produce rule applies to the farm side of things for produce, at least where the FDA feels there needs to be additional regulation.
4:11 p.m. Karst: Right. Then, of course, the import rule. What specifics will that rule bring?
4:12 p.m. O’Brien: The law says that it is going to be up to the importer to have a system in place to verify that the food was produced in a manner consistent with U.S. laws. In some ways, a lot of those safeguards are already in the system, primarily from buyers and other private means. But this will formalize that and may take a very different tack than has been done in the past. 
In my mind, this might be the biggest change of anything coming out the Food Safety Modernization law, but we don’t know and we won’t know until we see it.


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