TUCSON, Ariz. — Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner for foods Mike Taylor assured United Fresh Produce Association leaders the agency will take comments about proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rules seriously.

“We’re in a learning and listening mode now,” he said Jan. 29, during a teleconference at United Fresh’s winter meeting. “We need your engagement now, and we take seriously this part of the process.”

Taylor said Congress mandated three public meetings, which will probably be from late February to the end of March, but he didn’t have details yet. The FDA released two proposed rules on Jan. 4, one dubbed the “produce rule” concerning growing/packing practices and the “preventive control” rule about food safety programs at procecessing facilities. The FDA is taking comments about the proposals until May 16.

Taylor said flexibility was built into the rules, so there is still time for the produce industry to make suggestions for changes.

“This is the most challenging set of rules I’ve dealt with because of the incredible diversity of commodities” in fresh produce, he said.

One of the features he’s most interested in is the new partnerships with state food safety programs.

United Fresh invited Taylor to the meeting, but he was unable to travel due to meetings in Washington, D.C.