Produce food safety remains a work in progress as the industry seeks to influence writing of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s rules.
The industry is five years into development of the Produce Traceability Initiative and inside the comment period for the FSMA’s rules that will affect how it grows, packs and distributes its produce.
Activity abounds in the produce sector and Jim Gorny, senior adviser for produce safety at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in Washington, D.C., said he sees lots of energy going into development of best practices and standards.
“We understand the anxiety of people wanting to see the other three rules in the suite, which are the foreign supplier verification, third-party certification and the animal feed rule. We understand the interplay and the produce industry is a very global business, but so is the whole food industry.”
The FDA statutorily has up to a year to finalize its produce rules after concluding the comment period, Gorny said.
Still, the FDA isn’t planning any hard and fast compliance for at least two years afterward, he said.
“We will have plenty of time to do this educational outreach before we go into full compliance mode,” Gorny said.
“When we develop the compliance guidance documents, it won’t be a ‘Ta-da! Here’s the rule and you have to comply in 60 days.’ That’s not how it will work.”
David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said the state of food safety in the produce industry is one of continual improvement.
“I came out of the processed foods industry when HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) rules were written for meat and poultry,” he said.
“A lot of the same discussions we’re seeing now we saw in the processed industries. In some of those industries, it took longer for them to recognize and catch up on the safety issue. The produce industry has come on faster. It has taken this on much more seriously and made cultural changes much faster than we’ve seen in other industry.”
Elliott Grant, founder and chief marketing officer for YottaMark, Redwood City, Calif., agrees.
“I would say the produce industry is a work in progress, but good progress, so far,” he said.
“But we are not there yet. There are important milestones that are being crossed now. FSMA has published the first wave on food safety, primarily around handling and preventive measures. It doesn’t say anything about traceability yet but that’s anticipated.”