COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The government’s produce safety regulation will come in later than what Congress mandated and with some changes from the Food and Drug Administration about how to gauge food safety risk at the farm level.

FDA officials told attendees of the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference that they are changing their thinking about how they evaluate food safety risks at the farm level.

As FDA officials write regulations for food safety standards for fruit and vegetable operations, the agency is paying less attention to the food safety risk history of specific commodities and more attention to farm practices.

“A lot of time is spent on what kinds of commodities are included in the regulation, but just as important what kinds of control get applied to what kinds of commodity,” said Don Kraemer, acting deputy director of operations for FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

At the FDA offices, Kraemer briefed more than 170 industry members at the public policy conference Oct. 5.

Describing what he called “the current thinking of the agency,” Kraemer said the FDA is evaluating the risk posed by the commodity and the risk posed by the agricultural practices that are applied to fruits and vegetables.

“The extent of the standards and controls in the rule varies according to the risk of the agronomic practice,” he said.

For example, he said that applying water to the edible portion of a crop compared to the root zone can influence the food safety risk significantly. The same can be said of varying practices regarding soil amendments such as raw manure, he said.

“It is our intent to apply higher regulatory burdens on higher risk practices,” he said.

The FDA knows that various agronomic practices vary by region and vary over time, and the agency believes a focus on agronomic practices could lead to innovation and reduced risk.

Putting a higher regulatory burden on riskier practices should drive the industry towards alternative practices that are not as risky.

Kraemer also said that concerns have been raised commodity-specific standards in multiple row crop operations.

“If you define risk solely on the commodity itself you may end up with a high-risk crop growing right next to a low-risk crop next to a high risk crop,” he said. “If the idea was to apply different controls to different crops, you would end up with a fairly unmanageable situation in a small multi-row crop setting.”

Two significant challenges are apparent to evaluating risk based on agronomic practices, he said. One of those issues is the application of raw manure, and the time needed between application and harvest. The other is water directed to the edible portion of the crop and how that correlates safe harvest practices.