Citing education and technical assistance as “the foundation of our intended compliance strategy,” the Food and Drug Administration is banking on the Produce Safety Alliance to help growers meet requirements of its proposed produce rule.

One of the biggest challenges facing the alliance will be boiling down educational materials, once they are developed, said Gretchen Wall, program coordinator.

Wall said alliance leaders learned during focus groups with growers that it needs to create uncomplicated materials that can be presented in relatively short educational sessions.

“Farmers only want to spend one day on it,” Wall said Jan. 8. “So that gives us about seven hours because they want to get back to their farms and get to work.”

The FDA’s 547-page proposed rule — Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption — references the Produce Safety Alliance at least four times. The alliance and other Extension and outreach programs are the foundation for the government’s compliance strategy, according to the document.

FDA says education is key to produce rule complianceMichael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods, said the alliance and Extension programs will be an integral part of developing a “common framework” and training not only growers, but an army of trainers to help growers across the country comply with the final rule.

“Now farms have different standards depending on who they sell to. With the rule it will be consistent,” Taylor said during a Jan. 4 teleconference.

In anticipation of the rule, FDA joined with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010 to form and fund the PSA. The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service provided a $1.15 million grant for the PSA. Wall said the funding will likely be renegotiated and extended.

“Much of the budget will end up going to the production of curriculum materials and hosting training for educators, regulators, and growers within the next year” Wall said.

FDA says education is key to produce rule complianceShe said her first impression of the proposed rule is that many growers are already practicing good food safety.

“There really weren’t any surprises. The most onerous part will be the recordkeeping,” she said. “Setting up the systems and inputting information on a regular basis.”

Wall said the PSA has been working since 2010 on developing “learning objectives,” which it completed in late 2012.

“There are a total of 46 primary learning objectives as the curriculum stands now, not including five additional for an introductory module,” Wall said, adding that the PSA cannot release the specific learning objectives because the FDA’s final rule could impact them.

In the proposed rule, FDA officials said they intended the Produce Safety Alliance’s work to begin before the final rule is issues and continue after the rule is in effect.

“The first phase of work, in advance of a final rule, is intended to assist farms, especially small farms, in establishing appropriate food safety measures, consistent with the GAPs Guide and other existing guidances, so that they will be better positioned when we issue a final rule,” according to the rule.