The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) drastically changed the way the food industry approached food safety oversight when it was implemented in 2011.
"At that time, US produce farmers, and those in countries that export to the United States, had never been subject to this level of federal food safety oversight and, quite frankly, we at FDA had a lot to learn about the unique challenges farmers face every day. The idea of implementing preventive measures to head off food safety problems was a new and modern approach to regulation that promised to bring significant benefits for consumers," said FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb in a statement.
"Fresh produce is an important part of an overall healthy diet. The vast majority of fresh produce we eat is generally safe, especially when you consider per capita consumption rates. Unfortunately, in too many cases, foodborne illnesses are still being linked to fresh produce."
The Produce Safety Rule established under FSMA sets, for the first time, science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding, of fruits and vegetables, according to the FDA. For specific requirements click HERE.
"When the time came a year ago to begin routine inspections of large farms, other than sprouts operations (which have requirements specific to them), for compliance with the rule, we heard – and agreed – that more time was needed to ensure that produce farmers have the training and information they need to help them comply with the new requirements," Dr Gottlieb said.
The FDA postponed large-farm inspections until the spring of 2019, except for certain high-risk situations such as outbreak investigations. Small farms (having sold an average of more than $250,000 but not more than $500,000 a year) have been given until spring 2020 to comply with the Produce Safety Rule.
Training and resources
To help prepare produce farms for inspection, the FDA granted 46 states and one US territory $85m through the State Produce Implementation Cooperative Agreement (CAP). The CAP funds went towards developing state produce safety systems that provide education, outreach, and technical assistance to meet the needs of produce farming communities.
According to the FDA, most states opted to also use this funding to conduct produce farm inspections. A key goal for FDA's CAP program is creating an inspectional system in which the state experts who are most familiar with local farming practices conduct the bulk of inspections.
The FDA will also be conducting inspections, but most of its resources will be spent on inspection in states that aren't conducting their own CAP inspections.
The FDA added that it will continue to provide training to FDA staff and state partners who perform produce farm inspections. An 'On-Farm Readiness (OFFR)' program designed to help produce farmers prepare and comply with the Produce Safety Review was also created and 350 farmers have signed up so far.
"These reviews will continue to be available even as inspections begin," the FDA noted.