( File photo )

The Food and Drug Administration has released a proposal on food safety guidelines for sprout  seeds and will be taking public comments until late August.

The proposal, known as draft guidance because the FDA could revise it based on comments, will be published on June 25 in the Federal Register. Comments received through Aug. 26 will be considered by the FDA in the draft guidance process.

FDA recommendations in the document include:

  • Seed should be grown using good agricultural practices;
  • Seed should be packed and held in sanitary conditions;
  • Sprout seed suppliers should take steps to reduce microbial food safety hazards, including training for people with food safety responsibilities;
  • Seed for sprouting should be stored separately from other seed; and
  • Food contact surfaces should be cleanable, and cleaned regularly.

In releasing the information on June 24, the FDA noted that there have been 50 outbreaks of foodborne illness related to sprouts from Jan. 1996-Aug. 2018, with more than 2,600 people becoming ill.

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act specifically addresses sprouts through the Produce Safety Rule because growing sprouts have distinctive practices and risks, according to a news release on the guidance.

However, the FDA considers the seeds themselves to be outside of the “covered produce” in the safety rule. In fact, the growing, conditioning and distributing of the seeds are outside the scope of the rule, according to the FDA — even though contaminated seeds “are likely the source of most sprout-related outbreaks.”

“In addition, although the end use of seed may sometimes be unknown by the farmers who grow the seed and by the conditioners and distributors who handle the seed, seed for sprouting is considered ‘food’ under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,” according to the FDA release. “Therefore, the draft guidance released today is intended to provide food safety recommendations for those that grow, condition, pack, hold or distribute seed for sprouting.”

Comments can be submitted online to the Federal Register, as well as by mail to Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305), FDA, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD, 20852.

All comments should include docket number FDA-2018-D-4534.

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