The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) finally published its Produce Safety Rule in November last year (2015). It has defined that produce growers that are not exempted (see exemption section below) from the produce safety rule will need to comply with FSMA by keeping appropriate records, meeting the regulation requirements and attending a certified FSMA training; this will NOT require an annual fee or an audit. However, if farmers are GAP certified, they will be meeting the requirements of FSMA, but will still need to take the certified FSMA training course.
The first question many produce auction growers will have is ‘will I have to comply with the FSMA produce safety rule?’ The answer is ‘maybe’, it depends upon your annual sales. The FSMA requires any farm or business that sells more than $25,000 annually to a 3rd party or broker (meaning NOT directly to the consumer, or directly to a retailer or restaurant), then that entity needs to comply. So many smaller growers selling at auctions won’t have to comply, but we know larger or main growers supplying auctions will easily exceed that annual sales amount of $25,000 and eventually have to comply. Also, produce not normally eaten as raw (like potatoes and pumpkins) and not included in these sales, thus can be subtracted out of the annual sales total. (For complete information on FSMA for produce growers, including those selling direct to consumers or restaurants and retailers, see the MU/Kansas State University fact sheet)
So has the FSMA Produce Safety Rule affected the GAPs process in any way? Not really, although we understand that USDA will update GAPs to match the FSMA requirements, so there may be some slight changes to GAPS in the future. If one is GAPs certified, one can carry on renewing GAPs certification annually (see the article in this issue about a Four County Produce Auction Grower’s experience in getting GAPs certified- cost, effort, reasons, etc.). However, even if you are GAPs certified, if you are covered by FSMA (not exempt), you will still need to attend a certified FSMA training course.
We will have more complete details on the certified FSMA produce safety training during the offseason, late this year and next. The lead organization developing the FSMA certified produce safety training is a coalition headed by Cornell University called the Produce Safety Alliance. It will start regional training around the country for educators, who will later provide training to growers. Originally these trainings were to occur early this year, but were cancelled as FDA had not yet approved the training materials, and are now expected in September and October 2016. Thus by this coming offseason, they should be ready to present to growers.
Once those trainings are being offered, will growers (needing FSMA produce safety training) be required to attend immediately? No, as compliance is being phased in. Farms with annual produce sales between $25,000 and $250,000 will have until November 2019 to comply. Farms with $250,000- $500,000 in annual produce sales will be required to comply in November 2018. So growers can sit the training out for a year or two if they want, or they can get started as soon as we begin offering trainings.
So once a grower is ‘trained’, then what? Then they need to implement the FSMA-required food safety practices, keep the required records and have them available to be reviewed, if requested. There will be no ‘audit’ as part of FSMA compliance. Furthermore, the rather contentious and tricky issue of water testing is still being developed and will be phased in. Very small farms (with $25,000- $250,000 annual produce sales) will have until November 2021 to start compliance with the water provisions of the Produce Safety Rule. If there is no audit, then how will the regulatory agency verify that records are being kept properly, etc.? We don’t know yet. It is logical to expect that there will be some type of checking of farms, but would it be ‘when a problem occurs’, randomly, a certain % of farms, or some other rationale, and who exactly will be doing the inspection? This is totally unknown at this time.
Is there any other alternative to becoming GAPs certified? Kind of, there is a process called GroupGAP, which is just a variation on GAPs certification. GroupGAP is a process where a number of farms with similar production practices can get certified together. It substantially reduces the cost of certification and by requiring the growers to work together, provides a framework for them to learn from each other. An article specifically on this will be included in the end of the month bulletin.
* Londa serves as State Extension Food Safety Specialist for both University of Missouri and Kansas State University. She is based in Kansas City and can be reached at tel: 816-482-5860 & email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 913-307-7391 &
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REVISED: January 4, 2017