A pair of recent Food and Drug Administration proposed rules signal progress on the agency’s efforts to ensure public confidence in the safety of fresh produce.

On the domestic front, FDA — wisely — has extended the comment period for the Preventive Controls and Produce Safety rules until mid-November, two months past the scheduled Sept. 16 deadline.

The preventive controls rule — which more broadly defines what qualifies as a processing facility and is stricter than the act’s produce safety rule — as written would have a far-reaching effect with little upside for the industry.

The comment period gives grower-shippers, packers and handlers a chance to make sure the preventive controls regulation adequately and realistically addresses produce-specific needs.

On the import side, FDA is accepting comments on its proposed Foreign Supplier Verification Programs third-party auditor plan until Nov. 26.

FDA is spelling out requirements for foreign suppliers’ record-keeping, written food safety verification plans, hazard assessment and — recognizing the agency’s budgetary and staffing realities — sets up a system for companies outside the U.S. to use third-party auditors.

Another aspect of FDA’s plan that needs some adjustment is its exemption of “very small” exporters from compliance with the rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

While the move would help even the playing field for small operators that don’t have the deep pockets for regulatory adherence that bigger firms do, public health and consumer confidence in fresh produce safety should require all suppliers to toe the same line.

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