Rather than just updating its voluntary food safety guidance for fresh produce, FDA would better serve the produce industry’s guidance needs by developing benchmarking guidance and validating resulting food safety standards, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has told the agency.
PMA’s comments came in response to the agency’s recent request for public input on how it might update its 1998 “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables,” which contains voluntary guidance for produce suppliers.
“We urge the agency to go beyond merely providing updated voluntary guidance, to instead develop benchmarking guidance that would serve as a framework for developing and assessing public- or private-sector food safety standards on a global basis,” Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker wrote to the agency in comments PMA submitted on Dec. 30, 2008.
Noting that large and small produce suppliers alike are facing increasing pressure to comply with a proliferating variety of customers’ food safety standards, and at considerable expense, PMA urged FDA to develop risk- and science-based standards to reduce the marketplace’s current confusion and variability. The association also urged the agency to take leadership of evaluating resulting standards against those benchmarks, to “recognize valid comprehensive food safety standards or disapprove those which are found lacking.”
“This would mark a monumental shift in FDA practice [that] would catapult the agency from the passive role of offering voluntary guidance, to actively mandating GAP programs measured by FDA against its benchmark,” Whitaker wrote. “Perhaps as never before, we are faced with an opportunity to clarify approaches to produce food safety, drive harmonization in food safety standards and audits, reinforce the importance of risk- and science-based improvements to current practices across the entire supply chain, and to address the growing wariness of consumers regarding the safety of fresh produce.”