Florida Growers Putting Food Safety On Front Burner

Florida Growers Putting Food Safety On Front Burner

Food safety meeting for growers in Florida

An interested crowd of industry stakeholders gathered recently at the UF/IFAS facility in Belle Glade and learned a lot about new food safety rules.
Photo by Lisa Lochridge

About 150 produce growers, handlers, and other industry allies gathered in Belle Glade recently to hear FDA representatives discuss new food safety rules and to get answers to questions on compliance.

The public meeting was hosted by UF/IFAS to help Florida’s specialty crop industry understand what’s ahead as FDA begins implementing new food safety rules set out under the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act. A team from FDA, including Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods, gave an overview of the new rules.

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Questions from the crowd focused on rules for water testing. The Produce Safety Rule lays out a “tiered approach” to water sampling and specific numeric criteria for water use, said Dr. Karen Killinger, FDA. Many questions remain about how the rules apply to Florida’s unique farming environment.

“We understand there’s a need for additional guidance to clarify how to comply with the rule,” Killinger said. “We appreciate the opportunity to be with you to discuss some of these issues and what topics we need to consider for guidance documents.”

In addition to the Produce Safety Rule, FDA officials gave overviews on the Preventive Controls for Human Foods, Preventive Controls for Animal Food, and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program.

Important Paperwork

FDA plans to develop a set of guidance documents to help producers and handlers better understand how to comply with the rules. Killinger and the other FDA representatives urged attendees to submit specific questions and scenarios from their operations to the Technical Assistance Network. The information gathered there will be used to develop the guidance, she said. To submit questions, go to FDA.gov/FSMA and scroll to the bottom to find the “Contact Us” box.

During the question-and-answer session, issues surfaced for which there were no clear answers — the practice of pin-hooking, for example. In those instances, Killinger suggested growers submit details to the Technical Assistance Network.

One participant asked whether Florida’s existing nutrient criteria for water quality would supersede FDA’s criteria. “The whole rulemaking has been about setting a standard where none has existed before. There’s no mistaking the fact there’s now a water quality standard geared to the presence of generic E. coli where none has existed before,” said Taylor. “Yes, for the first time, we have a national standard. Production in Florida has to meet that new standard; Florida can’t override it.”

Before and after the informational meeting, several FDA members toured South Florida citrus and vegetable operations to see firsthand the unique aspects and challenges related to production and irrigation practices. The tours were arranged by FFVA’s Mike Aerts and Dr. Martha Roberts of UF/IFAS.

Training Days

Speaking of FSMA compliance, numerous companies and organizations have announced training related to the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

Many organizations and consultants are offering this FSPCA training, and FFVA is one of them. We are partnering with UF/IFAS and have three courses scheduled between now and September, with plans to offer more in the fall.  The three-day training costs $500. FFVA members get a $100 discount.

Learn more by attending one of the following upcoming courses.