Much as any other segment of the industry, fresh-cut is bracing for the impact of the coming produce safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“Everybody’s focused on what that’s going to do, not only at the grower level, but upstream to processors, repackers and end users like the foodservice and retail grocery industries, as well as food manufacturers,” said Bob Swartwout, vice president of sales for Shelby, Ohio-based R.S. Hanline & Co. Inc.

“Everybody’s going to be affected by the new regulations.”

The public comment period ends May 16 for the produce safety and the preventive controls rules. The Food and Drug Administration’s next public meeting on the safety rule is March 27 in Portland, Ore.

Concerns range from more paperwork shuffling up and down the supply chain to new testing requirements and how changing field practices may affect yield and quality.

An exemption for smaller farms remains a hot topic.

“That may be problematic when you consider the big trend in both foodservice and retail grocery right now is locally grown produce,” Swartwout said.

“It may not mesh real well with the message that we’re going to have a safe food supply chain if all of a sudden you’re going to lessen the regulatory burden on those smaller growers.

“It’s like exempting small airplanes from the FAA. It’ll be interesting to see how FDA solves that apparent contradiction.”

Tony Freytag, vice chairman of United Fresh Produce Association’s Fresh-Cut Processor Board and marketing director for Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., said the rules when finalized are likely to be a challenge for some in the industry to comply with.

“It’s going to have a ripple effect,” Freytag said.

“Where it could affect fresh-cut is on the growing side, things like irrigation water testing. If the growers don’t grow whatever we need, we’re out of business.”

United Fresh and the Produce Marketing Association have been encouraging member participation in the comment period and providing other resources.

Jan Berk, chairman of the Fresh-Cut Processor Board and vice president of Oxnard, Calif.-based San Miguel Produce Inc., said her group is working on various food safety white papers expected to be published this spring.

Topics include finished product testing and fresh-cut food safety investment papers.