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Produce growers to get extension on water standards

The FDA has announced its intention to extend the compliance dates for the agricultural water standards established by the Food Safety Modernization Act’s produce safety rule. The rule sets microbial quality standards for agricultural water, including irrigation water that comes into contact with produce.

More than 400 Virginia growers could be affected by the extension, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“The Agricultural Water Quality Standard requires that water used during production and post-harvest handling of affected crops must be safe and of sanitary quality for its intended use,” explained Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The protocols have caused concern for many growers. Having timely access to qualified laboratories is another concern. In instances where the water quality standard is not met, growers may take corrective action to avoid potential contamination and comply with the regulation.”
After receiving feedback earlier this year that some of the requirements are too complex to understand and implement, the FDA has been exploring ways to simplify the agricultural water requirements.

“The water quality standard is important for Virginia growers, because most do not have access to treated municipal water, which is exempt from testing,” Banks noted. “They want to ship quality fruits and vegetables, but they would like to balance FDA’s water testing requirements and regulatory compliance.”

The FDA intends to use the extended time period to work with stakeholders as it considers the best approach to address their concerns while protecting public health. The extended compliance dates also will give farmers an opportunity to continue to review their practices, processes and procedures related to agricultural water and how it is used on their farms. The compliance date extension for water quality does not include sprouts.

For more information, visit www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm.

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