Produce auction facilities shouldn't be affected by FSMA compliance
Published: March 28, 2016
One question foremost in mind for many growers involved with auctions, has been if the auctions themselves will have to change or do anything different, to comply with FSMA. The answer appears to be ‘NO’, the auction facilities won’t have to do anything. Nonetheless, they may have the opportunity to be proactive on the subject, and the rest of this article will address how I arrived at an answer and how I received some helpful comments.
The FDA provided a way to submit questions about FSMA. I did so at the end of December and received a reply on Feb. 5th. This was the original question:
- This is about the how the final produce safety rule will apply to distribution facilities called 'produce auctions'. These are commonly used by Amish and Mennonite growers in eastern US. My understanding is that these facilities are exempted from the preventative controls human food rule. So, are these facilities then considered under the category of 'all other businesses' and thus need to comply within 2 years? And if so, will they have to get GAP certified, or will there be another option to comply?
The response came from “The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food and Cosmetic Information Center (FCIC)/Technical Assistance Network (TAN) for case number 00065073”. I have refined the answer to be clear. Which was:
- You are correct on the Preventatives Control (PC) interpretation of produce auctions. This rule does not apply to them because “these operations are simply a location for buyers and sellers to meet and to sell and transfer produce and the food is not stored, we do not consider such facilities to be holding food and would not expect them to register”. (But this came with a warning)
- “However, if a produce auction house is more than simply a location for buyers and sellers to meet and to sell and transfer produce (e.g., if food is held or packed), then the produce auction house may be a food facility that must register with FDA, and the facility may be subject to the PC rule.”
- Lastly, “GAP certification involves an audit. A produce auction house operation that does not manufacture/process or grow food is not subject to supplier verification activities in subpart G, such as audits.”
The response went on to address the Produce Safety rule and its application to farms:
- GAPs are not required under the Produce Safety rule. The Produce Safety rule does not establish requirements for audits of covered farms, nor do we recognize any auditing body in that rule.
So unless a produce auction is managed in a way such that it is covered by the Preventative Controls Rule, then it is not impacted by the FSMA (including the Produce Safety Rule). I wanted to check my interpretation regarding this. The Produce Safety Alliance (see front page article) was a good place to check, and they now have a Midwest Regional Extension Associate to help with questions and outreach. That individual is Don Stoeckel who is based in Columbus, Ohio (but with Cornell University; Dept. of Food Science). Don’s response was “I read the same thing into the FDA response as you, so long as auctions serve simply as a meeting place for buyers and growers, produce auctions are either not covered or are exempt from all provisions of the Preventive Control Rule and Produce Safety Rule. There would be no need for the auction to have a third-party audit under those rules.” But he went on to suggest how auctions might be proactive on this issue.
- Auctions can play a valuable to have a role in produce safety, since they exert influence over growers. Because they are a meeting place, the Auction could implement rules or practices that represent the needs of the buyers with consistency (which helps the growers). For instance, some of Ohio’s produce auctions have a consistent labeling system that helps growers advertise if they are GAPs certified or GAPs compliant, making this easier for the buyers to see if that is important to the buyer. Some of the auctions also provide sales records to the growers that are designed to help growers with traceability. Finally, I could imagine that the auction could serve to tie a group of growers together if they wanted to participate in GroupGAP. (see article about GroupGAP)
I know of several auctions in Missouri that are working with growers to make traceability practical. When we finally are able to start training, I anticipate the various auction communities will support our efforts, if not even help organize them, as MU Extension has been helped with past workshops and similar. Thanks to Don with this issue, and he can be reached at: Phone: (614) 634-0884 & E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.