Highlights of New Food Safety Regulations

1/26/2013 7:00 AM

Below are some highlights of the requirements the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing in its new food safety rule, according to Luke LaBorde of Penn State University’s Department of Food Science.

Worker Health and Hygiene — Farm and packing house workers who harvest or handle fresh produce, and their supervisors, must receive training on personnel hygiene and health conditions that can increase the risk for food contamination.

Growers are required to show proof of training by keeping written records.

Toilet facilities have to be readily accessible, kept reasonably clean and supplied with toilet paper. Hand-washing stations must be close to toilet facilities and supplied with potable running water, hand soap and clean single-use towels.

Agricultural Water — Growers must be able to demonstrate that the water they use for irrigation, pesticide preparation, cooling and washing is safe for its intended use.

Maximum average E. coli levels of 126 cells per 100 milliliters have been proposed for irrigation water that can contact the edible part of the crop. Water used for post-harvest operations face more stringent standards; no detectable levels of E. coli are allowed.

Biological Soil Amendments — At least a nine-month interval (270 days) would be required between application of raw animal manure to produce fields and harvesting if there is a possibility that the manure may contact the produce.

Composted animal manures can be applied from 0 to 45 days before harvest depending on whether it can contact the crop.

Growers, or commercial compost suppliers, must provide proof through laboratory testing that the composting process was adequate to make it safe to use.

No human waste is allowed on fields except in the case of sewage sludge biosolids that are treated according to already existing regulations.

Domesticated Animals — Working animals, such as mules and horses, are allowed in produce fields as long as the grower can demonstrate that they have taken adequate measures to prevent contamination.

If animals are allowed to graze in areas intended for produce growing, the waiting period specified for application of raw manure (270 days) would apply.

Wild Animals — FDA recognizes that it is impossible to keep all wild animals away from produce fields.

If the situation is out of control and there is a reasonable probability that wild animals can contaminate produce, growers would be required to monitor their fields for signs of animals and take some kind of preventative measure to keep them out or discourage them from entering.

Equipment, Tools, and Buildings — Equipment and tools need to be kept reasonably clean. Sanitation standards for packing buildings requires good water drainage, control of dripping condensation, a pest control program, and regular clean-up of trash.

Partially enclosed packing buildings are acceptable if the grower or packer takes precautions to prevent birds and other pests from becoming established in the buildings.

Here are some points that LaBorde says need to be made about the proposed rule.

The rule covers only fresh produce that is sold commercially. It does not apply to produce used for personal consumption, such as home gardens.

The focus of the new regulation is on fruits, vegetable, nuts, herbs, mushrooms and sprouts that are typically eaten raw, not commodities that are generally cooked or further processed.

For example, potatoes, egg plant, winter squash, beets, and beans for drying are exempt.

Not all farms that grow fresh produce are required to comply with the rule. Those with gross food sales under $25,000 are exempt, and those with gross food sales over $500,000 are generally required to comply.

Those with total sales of between $25,000 and $500,000 may receive exemptions, depending on what kind of marketing channels are used.

For instance, farms that sells than more than half of their strawberry crops directly to consumers, such as at a farmers market, farm stand or CSA, or delivers the crops directly to a grocery store or restaurant, are exempt from the regulation.

However, to receive this exemption, these kinds of direct sales must be to buyers in the same state as the farm, or if out of state, no farther than 275 miles from the farm.

If a crop is mostly sold through wholesale outlets, such as through distributors, warehouses or fresh-cut processors, the farm is not exempt and is covered under the rule.

Exemptions can be canceled if FDA determines that a farm may be a source of contaminated produce.

Growers of any size who sell at least some of their crop through wholesale marketing channels, even if technically not covered by the federal regulation, have been facing and will to continue to face standards at least as stringent as anything in the final FDA regulations.

The draft ruling is available for viewing at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/ucm304045.htm. The public will have the opportunity to submit comment on the draft rule until May 16. Before this date, FDA will be holding public meetings to explain the proposal and to provide additional opportunity for input.

There are two ways to send comments — through the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov or by submitting written comments either by fax to FDA at 301-827-6870 or by mail to Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.

All written submissions received must include the Docket No. (FDA-2011-N-0921)

Source: Penn State University.

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