(March 11) Fresh produce is on the “A list” of Food and Drug Administration priorities, according to Joseph Levitt, director for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. In a press briefing March 10, Levitt outlined a list of priorities for the FDA in the coming year.

Those priorities include issuing final rules for establishing food facility registration requirements and for the establishment of prior notification requirement for all imported food shipments. Those rules have a target date of Oct. 12.

Beyond those general rules that will apply both to produce marketers and the whole food industry, Levitt said the FDA also has several A list priorities relating to fruits and vegetables:

  • Issue a draft guidance for fresh-cut produce;

  • Assist the government of Mexico in developing a certification program for Mexican cantaloupe growers;

As part of the process of reviewing food safety plans, the FDA said it will conduct an on-site inspections of Mexican firms wanting to be removed from the import ban, which has been in place since last year.

Levitt acknowledged only the FDA has certified a small number of Mexican cantaloupe growers so far.

“It is important to impress upon everyone the food safety standards needed to import food into the country; it will be something that will come over time,” he said.

  • Develop a strategy for addressing the multiple outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 in domestic lettuce;

  • Issue more limited guidance for fresh-cut produce, in conjunction with education video produced with the California Department of Heath Services;

  • Conduct international Good Agricultural Practices outreach in conjunction with the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

“This is clearly our most ambitious annual program to data, and covers virtually all the major areas we are involved with,” Levitt said.

Besides produce, the priority list includes measures dealing with seafood safety, domestic and foreign inspections and egg safety and others.

Jim Gorny, vice president of technology and regulatory affairs for the International Fresh-cut Produce Association, Alexandria, Va., said the fresh-cut guidance document has been in development for several years.

IFPA has put out food safety guidelines since 1992, and the fourth edition of the document was issued in 2001.

“We would expect something fairly similar to what is already out there,” said Gorny said, noting processors already must conform to mandatory good handling practices.

“We are already highly regulated and this won’t add anything to it,” he said, adding that the industry would have a chance to comment on the FDA guidelines.

So-called B-list priorities —which are longer term projects that won’t necessarily be completed in the next year — include:

  • Amend sprouts guidance regarding mung bean irrigation water sampling and use of kits;

  • Issue sampling assignment to analyze specific items of domestic and imported produce for the presence of pathogens;

  • Work with relevant trade association to develop Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices for cantaloupes;

  • Improve the sensitivity of Salmonella detection methodology of cantaloupe.