FDA pushes back FSMA produce requirements for water testing

The Produce Safety Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) came into effect in early 2018 for the largest produce growers in the U.S., meaning that efforts to understand the rule and implement its requirements are well underway for many operations.

Smaller produce operations (those with between $250,000 and $500,000 in revenue) have another year to comply, and even smaller farms (between $25,000 and $250,000) have yet another year after that.

There are five parts of the produce rule: biological soil amendments; domesticated and wild animals; worker training, health and hygiene; equipment, tools and buildings; and agricultural water and testing. Right now, producers need to focus on compliance with four of the five parts (for all produce except for sprouts). Farm inspections will begin in 2019. Until then, the FDA and partners at state universities and other organizations will focus on education and training to help growers meet the new requirements.

Implementing the agricultural water and testing part, however, is a little trickier due to some recent changes to its framework.

In September 2017, the FDA proposed an extended compliance deadline for agricultural water testing after industry leaders raised concerns about the requirements’ feasibility — specifically, that the outlined water testing requirements would be too pricey for smaller operations. Under the extension, the largest farms now have until 2022 to comply, smaller-tiered farms complying in 2023 and 2024.

The new deadline provides time for the FDA to make sure water standards are realistic for large and small operations, and also adequately protective of public health. The FDA says it plans to meet with farmers and state regulators to hear about how they use water on the farm.

At the same time, the FDA introduced eight additional water testing methods that can be used to meet the produce rule’s requirements, with the possibility of more methods being added in the future.

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