New Food Safety Rules Raise Questions10/14/2016
Following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) finalization of its “Produce Rule” last year, part of FDA’s new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules, farmers have found themselves with more questions than answers concerning the new regulations and requirements. The most frequently asked question we receive here at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been whether or not farmers need to sign up for an upcoming Produce Safety Alliance FSMA training for produce growers – the short answer is: probably not.
What most produce farmers need right now is basic food safety education programs to help them implement Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) on their farms. Some of these practices may be new to farmers, and since implementing effective food safety improvements on the farm can take time, it’s good to start getting prepared as soon as possible.
For farms that must comply with FSMA, the Produce Safety Alliance training is one possible option for meeting FSMA’s training requirements. A drawback of this training, however, is that it is a standardized curriculum. FDA has acknowledged that more FSMA training alternatives will need to be developed for different farm audiences, and while the Produce Safety Alliance training program will eventually be tailored to meet regional needs and a diversity of operations, that has not happened yet. This means that, although the Produce Safety Alliance training will start rolling out this fall and winter for interested farmers, for many it may not be the best option at this time.
Farm food safety training is a continuum, and not all farms are at the same point along the road. The key for farmers is identifying the right on-ramp for their business based on their current situation. Now that all the food safety rules have been finalized and the standardized curriculum is in place, it is likely that new, more tailored training programs will continue to rollout in the coming months. Farmers should not, therefore, feel pressured to sign-up for a FSMA training this winter if that training does not address their particular needs.
Since most farms still have several years before they have to be in compliance with FSMA, and many farms are new to food safety requirements, it may make sense to start implementing food safety practices through a basic GAPs program before moving on to a FSMA-specific training. On the other hand, a farm that has over $500,000 in annual produce sales and must come into compliance in January of 2018, or that has existing experience with GAPs and may even be GAP certified, is likely more ready for a FSMA-specific training like the Produce Safety Alliance. For a list of organizations that currently offer food safety training programs as well as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide to the FSMA training requirements, see the NSAC FSMA Resource Center.
Now that the FSMA Produce Rule has been completed, the need for training, outreach, and education is increasingly critical. NSAC will be publishing additional FAQ to address farmers’ questions about food safety certification/audits, and facility registration in the coming weeks. We encourage farmers to take advantage of as many resources as possible during this process and to talk to local experts and professionals as they make their farm business decisions.