Water quality standards a murky issue for produce safety rule - The Packer

Water quality standards a murky issue for produce safety rule

05/28/2013 05:25:00 AM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstOne web page that all industry leaders should bookmark is the produce safety rule docket at regulations.gov.  

With more than 600 comments received so far on the FDA's proposed produce safety rule, one can begin to identify what issues are flashpoints for the regulations.

Here is a comment from Donna Pahl of Maryland about the water quality requirements, whcih FDA officials have said was perhaps the most difficult to compose. Pahl is an extension GAPs educator at the University of Maryland.

From the comment:

Comment on Water Quality Requirements in Food Safety Modernization Act

Our lab is writing to comment on the proposed microbial regulations for the quality of crop spray water in the Food Safety Modernization Act. The proposed regulations call for agricultural water that contacts the edible portions of covered produce to be “safe and of adequate sanitary quality for its intended use”. The proposed regulations state that any water that contacts the edible portion of crops should test under 235 cfuE.coli/100ml in a single test, or 126 cfuE. coli /100ml as a rolling average.

We work as GAPS educators and researchers at the University of Maryland. One of the universal concerns that growers express is the proposed recommendation for water used in preparing crop sprays. Growers throughout the Mid-Atlantic use surface water sources (ponds, springs, and canals) to mix with pesticides for contact application. Since groundwater and wells are not always available near their fields, this is a common practice. Crop sprays are typically applied to the edible portion of the plant.With pesticide application, only a limited amount of water is sprayed onto the crop – ranging from 30 to 300 gallons per acre. This differs significantly from overhead irrigation, which requires about 27,000 gallons per acre inch of irrigation water.

In our own research, we found that the levels of E. coli present in water used for the application of crop sprays did not have a significant impact on the microbial load on the surface of tomatoes. The two publications listed below are linked field studies completed by our lab. Water sources of significantly different water quality (groundwater and ponds) were used to prepare and apply pesticides to tomatoes. Twenty-four hours after the pesticide application treatments, tomatoes were harvested, rinsed, and massaged to elute surface bacteria. The resulting washwater was tested with conventional microbiological and molecular methods. Even after performing the non-recommended practice of applying water with high levels of fecal indicator organisms, there were no significant differences in the microbial load on the tomatoes. For more detail, please reference the publications listed below.


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