Olivia McClure, Adhikari, Achyut, Graham, Charles J., Fontenot, Kathryn | 12/4/2015 9:47:21 PM
News Release Distributed 12/04/15
ALEXANDRIA, La. – A key provision of a sweeping reform to American food safety laws will take effect in January 2016, requiring produce growers to take more steps to prevent contamination.
LSU AgCenter extension agents heard about the forthcoming rules at a training session held in Alexandria on Dec. 3.
The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011, shifting the focus of regulations to prevention of foodborne illnesses, said AgCenter food safety specialist Achyut Adhikari. The act, which is enforced jointly by the Food and Drug Administration and state agencies, includes seven rules that govern how plants must be grown, harvested, processed, stored and transported.
The centerpiece of the act, the Produce Safety Rule, has been finalized and will take effect in January. Farms that sell more than $25,000 worth of produce annually are subject to the rule, unless they grow crops that usually are not eaten raw, such as sweet potatoes.
The rule addresses types of risks rather than specific commodities. Contamination often occurs on the farm from contact with irrigation water, soil amendments, workers, equipment and animals.
“If there is a risk associated with your farm, you need to be able to identify that risk and develop a procedure to minimize it,” Adhikari said. “We can’t eliminate all risks, but if we minimize them, we also minimize contamination.”
Risks for contamination increase in post-harvest activities, such as washing produce or containers with water. Irrigation in the field is only subject to FSMA standards if the water contacts the crop, such as in overhead irrigation systems.
“If the water is contaminated, it might contaminate the produce because it touches the surface,” Adhikari said.
Growers who use surface or groundwater must regularly take samples, which cannot contain more than a certain level of generic E. coli. Municipal water used on the farm does not have to be tested.
Worker hygiene and health are also keys to preventing contamination, Adhikari said. FSMA requires farm workers to be trained every year in basic hygiene and food safety. Owners or supervisors who conduct worker training must be certified in an FDA-recognized curriculum, such as the Produce Safety Alliance’s program.
Animal waste that is used as a soil amendment must meet certain requirements, said AgCenter pecan specialist Charlie Graham. Both treated and untreated manure can be used, but the level of pathogens decreases significantly with treatment, such as composting and aging, he said.
Producers who make their own compost must allow it to reach 131 degrees for three days if they aerate the pile or for 15 days if it is left static, then let it mature for 45 days.
Manure that has aged for at least six months can also be used, although growers should avoid planting root and leafy crops in the year it is applied to a field, Graham said. Raw manure can only be used not less than 90 days before crops are planted.
Compost and manure piles should be stored away from fields and waterways so they don’t contaminate crops.
FSMA also requires growers to take steps to prevent animal intrusion into fields, Graham said. They should monitor fields and document any signs of animal intrusion, such as rooted-up crops or feces. FSMA prohibits harvesting crops that have been damaged or otherwise affected by animals.
Livestock can be kept on land adjacent to crops, but there should be a barrier to prevent them from entering the field. Pests like roaches and mice must be eliminated in areas where produce is handled, such as packing sheds.
While it’s best to begin complying with FSMA rules early, growers have time to gather records and make changes to their operations, said Kiki Fontenot, AgCenter vegetable specialist.
Depending on income level, farms have between two and six years from each rule’s effective date to comply. However, some buyers have already self-imposed FSMA rules, meaning growers may still have to meet those requirements to be able to sell their produce in the meantime.
All preventative measures should be documented carefully, Adhikari said. While growers do not have to formally submit any documentation, they must have those materials on hand if FDA inspectors request them.
“Many farmers may already have food safety practices on their farm but do not document them,” Adhikari said. “If you did not write it down, it didn’t happen, and it does count against you.”
The AgCenter will offer FSMA training sessions for growers in the coming months.Olivia McClure