Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a public meeting held by our colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide an update for the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This law will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. I spoke on behalf of my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – as part of a panel of domestic and international officials who provided the government’s perspective on how we would like to see the final law implemented.
With several of the law’s rules set to become final later this summer and early in the fall, the FDA is still seeking comments and suggestions for the best way to implement FSMA. The meeting, which included breakout sessions where participants could start an open dialogue about the implementation, is part of the FDA’s emphasis on educating the industry before regulating it.
During my discussion, I stressed how USDA has worked closely with FDA on the development and implementation of the final FSMA law. I also reaffirmed my agency’s commitment to working with FDA to help our produce stakeholders comply with the law. Many have stated that the AMS Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Audit Program – run by our Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI)– can help produce businesses meet final FSMA requirements. Our program verifies that operations are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from FDA. We are committed to adjusting this program, following FDA guidance so that our nation’s produce businesses can comply with the final law.
Looking ahead, I feel it is extremely important to educate the wholesaler, re-packer and extension agency communities about the law. In addition to the farming and shipping segments of the industry, each of these groups will be critical to successful implementation of the law.
Attending this meeting is one of the many ways that AMS is working to help the produce industry get prepared to comply with the law. We have enjoyed a successful partnership with Cornell University and FDA through the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA). Together, we developed a curriculum that helps fresh produce growers meet FSMA training requirements and common requirements from wholesalers. The curriculum includes modules that cover a wide-range of GAPs, the FMSA Produce Safety Rule requirements, and how to develop a food safety plan. Since 2010, the PSA has been engaged with produce growers, industry members, regulators, and extension educators through working committees, public meetings, focus groups, and webinars. In June, the PSA will launch the Train-the-Trainer and Grower Training Courses nationally.
Getting the produce industry ready for FSMA compliance is a total team effort. We encourage everyone to visit the FDA site to receive updates and subscribe to the PSA listserve for information about the alliance. You can also learn more about the GAPs Audit Program by visiting our SCI website.