COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Industry efforts to help define commodity-specific food safety regulations will aid the Food and Drug Administration in implementing best agricultural practices, FDA officials told attendees of the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference on Sept. 10 at FDA offices.
“There is no argument that FDA has a critical role in ensuring produce safety through compliance to enforceable standards so that best practices for produce safety become common practice,” said Michelle Smith, interdisciplinary scientist with FDA’s Office of Food Safety.
FDA first issued good agricultural practices for fresh produce in 1998, Smith said, and that early version leaned heavily on industry-developed guidelines.
In 2004, the fresh produce industry made a commitment to start work on guidance on commodities that showed up most often in produce associated outbreaks, she said. Since then, industry rules has been drafted for melons, lettuce, tomatoes and leafy greens. Draft guidance for green onions was recently shared with FDA.
Smith said those industry-specific guidance documents helped FDA as it put together its own guidelines for tomatoes, melons and leafy greens this summer and prepares further regulations in the months ahead.
Smith said the industry-led guidance allowed the entire supply chain across the U.S. to have input and that participation by her and other FDA officials added to the agency’s knowledge base
She said FDA decided to issue its own commodity-specific rules because the agency thought it would further adoption and implementation.
“Buyers might be prone to take recommendations from the federal level and incorporate that into purchase requirements,” Smith said.
She said the FDA will be taking comments on its commodity specific guidance for melons, tomatoes and leafy greens through Nov. 2.
Smith said FDA is committed to developing regulations that will be science-based enforceable standards for produce safety.
“We do not know at this point what the shape of the regulation will be,” Smith said, adding that the standards will be based on prevention-oriented public health principles and it will incorporate all of FDA’s learning over the past decade.
Smith said upcoming regulations will consider the needs of small organic producers.
“We will weigh public health benefit against cost and what’s appropriate both from a cost benefit and the complexity of the operation,” she said.
Responding to a question about possible exemptions for small growers, Smith said it would be premature to speculate.