Adhering to Good Agricultural Practices has always been key to growing a successful agricultural business. In the past, voluntary FDA guidance documents provided a general idea of what to do in order to minimize risks throughout the production process. However, in 2011 the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) brought about the most significant changes to U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years. One of the seven major overarching rules under FSMA is the rule on Standards for the Growing Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, better known as the Produce Safety Rule. The Produce Rule applies to farms engaged in the growing, harvesting, packing, or holding of raw agricultural commodities (fruits, vegetables) for human consumption. This rule is the first mandatory federal law requiring growers to adhere to specific science-based standards to grow and pack products for human consumption.
While the law came into effect on January 26, 2016, the FDA understood there needed to be time allotted for the industry to comply. The Produce Safety Rule compliance dates vary on the size of the facility—very small farms were given four years to comply, small farms were given three, and larger companies were given two. Additionally, the Produce Safety Rule offered additional time for monitoring the agricultural water quality requirements as this is a complex area and one which FDA anticipated the need for training and education within the growing community. Commercial farms with average annual produce sales of at least $25,000 are covered under this rule.
There are; however, qualified exemptions to the rule. Commodities, such as beans or potatoes, which are rarely consumed raw would not fall under the Produce Safety Rule, nor does produce that is grown either for personal consumption or consumption on the farm. The FDA has created a Produce Safety Rule decision tree that can help determine if your farm needs to be compliant or is eligible for a qualified exemption.
It is important to note that the Produce Safety Rule is derived from Good Agricultural Practices, or GAPs, and the principles that the FDA first laid out two decades ago. The Essentials of Produce Safety course is built for produce managers and supervisors across the supply chain. This online course reviews GAPs in detail and traces their evolution into what we recognize today as the Produce Safety Rule. One example of the approach FDA outlined might include worker health, hygiene, and training from subparts C and D in their Good Agricultural Practices guidance. Both of these subparts have a prominent role in the Produce Rule. They additionally impacted the revision of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) from the Preventive Controls Rule, which covers manufactured products.
Focus on Training
You’re most likely familiar with FSMA’s requirement for specific training for designated employees in your facility—Preventive Controls Rule or Produce Safety Rule, depending on your operation type. Best practices show that training affects employees at all levels in your facility:
- Reinforce training regularly.—Train field or line workers when they are hired and in regular increments afterward.
- Educate supervisors and managers.—Give employees in charge of supervising produce safety activities more background information so they understand what is done and why.
- Offer training in language the employees speak.—Providing workers training and outlining learning outcomes in languages that they customarily speak adds to the value of the training you give.
- Give real-world examples.—There are many companies that can attest that when employees understand why a task is important, they are more likely to own the responsibility for completing the task to the best of their ability.
- Highlight the importance of good hygiene.—Illness might cause product contamination, so recognizing symptoms early is especially important in food production and manufacturing.
Learning is always essential to protecting your products and your company. Alchemy Academy offers exclusive content from the Produce Marketing Association that is complimentary to the FDA’s produce safety training curriculum and provides not only what needs to be done, but why it is important and offers insights on how best to not only be compliant with the FSMA rules but also best protect your company, your customers and your employees from the disruption of a produce safety illness outbreak. In Essentials of Produce Safety, individuals will learn how to better identify and manage produce safety risks within their operation and more. Get started with PMA’s exclusive online course today!