Next Steps For Food Safety
September is Food Safety Month. Learn the latest on the Food Safety Modernization Act and what you can expect for your operation in the coming months.
by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions
It’s been nine months since President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a piece of legislation that will provide the government with more power to regulate America’s food supply than ever before. Since that time, a number of milestones have been reached and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have made efforts to work with produce growers of all sizes to gauge the impact of the FSMA on your operations.
Representatives from FDA recently wrote in the agency’s transparency blog about the past year’s activities in which FDA and USDA technical experts, scientists and staff have traveled throughout the country participating in listening sessions, meeting with growers in 14 states, touring growing operations and getting feedback about the realities of implementing the FSMA. The FDA and USDA have even teamed with the industry to develop the Produce Safety Alliance, a project to develop a uniform educational curriculum and outreach strategy for farmers and regulators, alike. It includes established working committees to identify challenges in the areas of understanding and implementing Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) on farms.
Meanwhile, FDA is seeking out more open commentary on the burden of FSMA fees on small businesses. Comments are due by October 17.
Budget Cuts Already for FSMA
On January 4, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law. The new law has been called the first major overhaul of the food safety system in the United States in nearly a century and gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authority to recall tainted food and step-up inspections of food processing facilities.
One big obstacle to the FSMA is that it requires an extra $1.4 billion in funding over five years, despite Republican lawmakers’ intention to cut the budget. In June, this came to a head with Congress voting to cut millions of dollars from FDA’s budget, including funds dedicated to implementing the FSMA. According to a story in the Washington Post, the White House opposed the cuts, which also included a $35 million cut from USDA’s food safety and inspection service.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), chairman of the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee, justified the food safety cutbacks by saying the food supply is “99.99% safe.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
Before the end of this year, the FDA will publish a preliminary rule and a set of standards to regulate fresh produce production and harvest. This will be followed by a open comment period about the proposed rule before any final rule is issued, which is anticipated sometime in 2012. The timeline small businesses can expect to see guidance documents and related material is as follows:
- Facilities Registration: FDA will issue “plain language” guidance for small entities within six months of issuing the registration rule.
- Hazard Analysis and Preventitive Controls: FDA will issue “plain language” guidance for small entities within six months of issuing hazard analysis/preventive control rule. The hazard analysis/preventive control rule will take effect for small businesses six months after its effective date and for very small businesses, 18 months after effective date.
- Produce Safety: FDA will issue “plain language” guidance for small businesses within six months of issuing produce safety rule. The produce safety rule will take effect for small businesses one year after its effective date and for very small businesses, two years after its effective date.
- Tracking and Tracing: FDA will issue “plain language” guidance for small businesses within six months of issuing rule on tracking and tracing food and recordkeeping. The rule on recordkeeping will take effect for small businesses one year after effective date and for very small businesses, two years after effective date.
- Training and Education: FDA will enter into agreement with USDA to establish competitive grant program with the National Institute for food and Agriculture to provide food safety training, education, extension, outreach and technical assistance to farmers, small food processors and small fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers.
On this last point, industry associations including the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), United Fresh Produce Association and the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) offer small grower training to their members. See our “Food Safety Resources” article to learn more.
ASSOCIATIONS WORKING FOR YOU
LGMA has been working with FDA to propose that its current safety measures be used as the mechanism for government oversight in the leafy greens industry. According to Scott Horsfall of LGMA, the association’s food safety program already accomplishes what the FSMA mandates - a risk-based set of standards verified through government audit, designed to minimize the risk of contamination and to protect public health.
“LGMA is perfectly positioned to fill that role,” Horsfall wrote in the LGMA blog. “This would make sure the industry does not have another set of requirements to meet, along with what the LGMA and the marketplace already demand.”
PMA has commented to the FDA that the GAPs established in 1998 serve as a starting point from which the FDA can work with the produce industry based on demonstrated risk. The original guide has been a framework for industry food safety standards and have led to development of commodity-specific food safety guides. Going forward, with increased food safety research, the FDA can use the GAP guidelines as a starting point to work implement food safety measures.
GET ON BOARD
The bottom line is, no matter where you stand in opinion on the Food Safety Modernization Act and what it’s going to mean for your operation, it’s not going away - it’s the law. Industry groups are doing what they can to make sure this law is enforced in a way that is as painless for you as possible; however, once the rules come out and standards are set, it’s up to you to take steps to implement changes into your operation.
We’re happy to help you through the process in any way possible. Please contact a Delta T Solutions representative to discuss how we might assist you by calling 800-552-5058 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.