U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are hoping for an 80% response rate on new surveys sent to fruit and vegetable growing and packing operations about their food safety practices.
 
Shareefah Jackson, statistician with the USDA"s National Agricultural Statistics Service and Linda Calvin, economist with the USDA Economic Research Service talked about the importance of the survey in an interview on Sept. 9.
 
The officials said the last time the USDA"s National Agricultural Statistics Service researched food safety practices in the fruit and vegetable industry was in 1998. 
 
"Clearly, FSMA is going to be a big deal for the produce industry, so here at ERS we wanted to look at the impact of FSMA will be on the produce industry," Calvin said. "You can"t really know what the impact is unless you know where you started and our only national survey data on food safety practices was 1998, the year FDA"s first GAPs guidance came out and a lot has changed since then."
 
Calvin said the data will be valuable as a baseline measure and to understand possible stumbling blocks to putting in place food safety practices.
 
The grower survey that will attached to a regularly scheduled chemical use survey for fruit growers this year and a chemical use survey for vegetables next year. In the survey, growers will be asked to provide information on food safety practices for all fruits and vegetables.
 
The packer survey will be sent out by mail, asking post-harvest questions and specifying the scope of their operations and their food safety practices. Calvin said there may be about 90 people across the U.S. will get both surveys.
 
Most of the questions related to practices, such as food safety audits, water tests and a relatively small number of questions about food safety costs.
 
Jackson said the USDA compiled a list of about 16,000 postharvest operations, and then did a random sample and extracted 2,200 to be a part of the sample population.
 
The fruit chemical use/food safety survey will be sent to 6,300 growers this year, while about 4,300 growers will be sent the  vegetable chemical use/food safety survey in 2016, Jackson said. 
 
Jackson said produce operations are normally very good about filling out USDA surveys, and she said she is hoping for an 80% response rate.
Calvin said the information is badly needed.
 
"We have so little information about produce safety, and I think we"ve seen that problem in the development of Food Safety Modernization Act," she said. Currently, estimates on how many packers pack for themselves only or pack for others as well are not available, she said.  "There are a lot of basic questions we don"t know about the industry, and we hope people will take the time to fill this out," she said.
 
Jackson said NASS safeguards the identity of survey participants.
 
"No one"s individual operation or information will be given out, nothing to identify the person filling out the survey none of that information will be shared," she said.
 
USDA ERS will be publishing reports based on the data, but won"t identify operations. Various reports on food safety practices based on the size of operations or comparative practices in various states will be produced by ERS, Calvin said.
 
ERS will have access to the data in June 2016, she said.
 
The survey period for both  growers and the postharvest operation begins in September and winds up in January, Jackson said.
 
The produce portion of the postharvest operations survey is about 12 pages, while the grower produce safety survey is about eight pages. The grower survey is not available online, but the postharvest survey is available online www.agcounts.usda.gov, Jackson said.
 
 
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