Food safety is here to stay

02/18/2013 04:30:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the February 2013 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

Vicky BoydFood safety experts are still trying to wade through the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed food safety rules released Jan. 4 to figure how what they’ll mean to the state’s growers.

At this stage, the requirements in the Food Safety Modernization Act are merely proposed, which means the FDA could modify them based on input received during the comment period.

In addition to a list of requirements that most growers will have to meet, the proposal gives the FDA authority to force a recall. Currently, the agency can highly recommend a company recall product but it can’t mandate it.

An initial examination of the extensive proposal shows they’ll have little effect on most of the state’s larger growers, who already have adapted food safety measures, says Keith Schneider, an associate professor, specializing in food safety, at the University of Florida in Gainesville. These larger growers also are audited by third parties at the request of retailers.

“For the people who are already getting audits done, it’s not going to be a big deal,” he says. “From a day-to-day operation, it’s going to be fairly transparent.”

Water testing may be one area that those growers will have to modify, Schneider says. The proposal would require any water coming in contact with produce to meet recreational water quality standards. Most large growers already test water for pathogens, but the proposal spells out the water sources and related testing frequencies.

The state’s tomato growers most likely will see few changes, since the mandated Tomato Good Agricultural Practices and Tomato Best Management Practices are stricter than the FDA proposal, Schneider says.

Where he says he expects the most impact will be on smaller producers.

Growers with less than $500,000 of annual farm-gate revenue and who sell mostly to consumers or restaurants within a 275-mile radius would be given additional years to comply, according to the FDA proposal

Producers with $25,000 or less in annual farm-gate revenue would be totally exempt.

Part of Schneider’s job during the past several years has been to educate growers about good agricultural practices, or GAPs, a set of voluntary measures designed to reduce the potential for foodborne illness outbreaks.

Although Schneider says he’d like to think that most growers have adopted the measures, he was nonetheless surprised at how many attendees of his recent training session at the Southeast Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Ga., had never been to a GAPs meeting before.

UF’s Institute of Food and Agriculture plans to hire another food safety Extension specialist based at Lake Alfred to boost educational outreach, Schneider says. IFAS also will modify its GAPs training to incorporate the new requirements, once they’re finalized.

All of these measures just reinforce the seriousness of food safety and that everybody in the agricultural community needs to share responsibility.

“Food safety is important, regardless of the size of your operation,” Schneider says, repeating his familiar mantra.

(You can read the full FSMA proposal at http://1.usa.gov/VDestM.)



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