Farmers need to prepare for Produce Safety Rule

foodThe Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule will go into full implementation for large U.S. farms in the summer of 2019. But recordkeeping must start this year.

Erik Bungo, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ produce safety program supervisor, told farmers the new rules were designed to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks. He was speaking during the Feb. 23 meeting of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Apple and Specialty Crops Advisory Committee.

From 1998 to 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 754 produce-related outbreaks resulting in 27,000 illnesses, 2,592 hospitalizations and 85 deaths.

The outbreaks were associated with about 40 different fresh fruit or vegetables crops.

“Farmers preferred VDACS to handle the implementation of the rules instead of FDA to keep it more local, so that is how it is being implemented,” Bungo explained. The goal is to keep the U.S. food supply safe by shifting focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

The new rules establish science-based minimum standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fresh fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The rules will initially affect farms with sales of $500,000 or more, which covers about 400 of Virginia’s produce farms.

The new rules establish science-based minimum standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fresh fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. They will initially affect farms with sales of $500,000 or more, which covers about 400 of Virginia’s produce farms.

Those farmers need to begin rule-related recordkeeping this year.

“Farmers can take a grower training course between now and next summer,” Bungo said. “Right now VDACS is focusing on outreach and doing presentations and providing materials and information to make people aware, especially small farmers who may not be aware of the new rules.”

Before the compliance dates—which are staggered based on farm size—every covered farm that does not qualify for an exemption must complete a standardized food safety training program.

Two produce safety trainers are based at Virginia Tech, and multiple Virginia Cooperative Extension agents are qualified to assist with training. Remaining courses will be held March 29 in Carroll County and June 28 in Winchester.

VDACS will begin performing on-farm readiness reviews in April to identify areas of concern and ensure that farmers have a complete understanding of how to comply with the new rules. Inspections are slated to begin on large farms in 2019.

More information about the specific standards and training can be found at vaproducesafety.com.