The Produce Safety Rule establishes mandatory science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. These standards are designed to work effectively for food safety across the wide diversity of produce farms.
What this means is that farms covered by the rule will be held to certain standards designed to reduce the presence of potentially dangerous bacteria in the food supply, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of illnesses caused by contaminated produce.
In other words, this is all about keeping food safe for consumption.
The new standards include requirements for agricultural water quality, employee health and hygiene, animals, biological soil amendments of animal origin (such as compost and manure), and equipment, tools, and buildings. These areas have been identified as sources of produce contamination in the past.
Key elements of the new rule include:
- Requirements for agricultural water quality and testing are designed to detect contamination by feces, which may be accompanied by bacteria that cause disease.
- There are requirements for the use of biological soil amendments of animal origin, which include manure and compost, which are added to soil to improve its ability to support plant growth. These requirements will help reduce the likelihood of potentially dangerous bacteria entering the food supply.
- Sprouts have been associated frequently with foodborne illness outbreaks. The final rule includes testing and other standards for producing sprouts to prevent contamination with dangerous microbes, such as Listeria monocytogenes.
- There are often animals on farms, such as livestock, and even wild animals, like deer. During harvest, farmers are required to take all reasonably necessary steps to identify potential contamination (including contamination by animals) and not harvest the affected produce. In some circumstances, farmers must also take steps to assess potential contamination by animals during the growing season, in anticipation of these requirements at harvest.
- Farm workers handling covered produce and/or food contact surfaces, including their supervisors, must be trained on the importance of health and hygiene. Farms must take steps to prevent contamination of produce and food-contact surfaces by people who are sick. This includes instructing farm workers to notify their supervisors if there’s an issue with their health or hygiene that could compromise the safety of the produce.
- Finally, there are standards related to equipment, tools and buildings to prevent problems, such as poor sanitation, from contaminating produce. Buildings covered by these requirements include greenhouses and germination chambers.
The bottom line is that consumers can have confidence that modern preventive practices will soon be in place, no matter where in the world food is produced. The Produce Safety Rule, along with other FSMA-mandated rules to regulate food production, importation and transportation, will better protect consumers from foodborne illness.