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Questions abound about implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. To keep you abreast of the latest information, Good Fruit Grower, in cooperation with industry professionals, is presenting an occasional column to answer some of the more frequently asked questions.

Ines Hanrahan

Ines Hanrahan

Why do I have to follow rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act?
Foodborne illnesses affect a large portion of the American public every year (one in every six people will be sickened by a foodborne illness) and pose a significant public health burden that is largely preventable.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law by Congress in 2011 to prevent food contamination.

If you are a grower with annual sales totaling $250,000 or more, you are required by law to comply with these rules. However, compliance dates are staggered based on farm size and perceived difficulty to comply.

Why do I have to sample my water?
FSMA requires water sampling because agricultural water used to irrigate, cool and spray fresh produce is typically non-potable.

The new rules focus on understanding the risks associated with agricultural water and using that understanding to prevent contamination from known hazards, such as harmful pathogens in animal feces, in order to ensure that produce remains “clean.”

In other words, the rule focuses on a systems approach that starts with the prevention of contamination in the first place, followed by prevention of proliferation and cross contamination.

Why are the irrigation districts not taking care of water sampling for all their growers?
There are multiple reasons why irrigation districts are hesitant to provide this service to growers.

First, many irrigation districts have a variety of crops, some that may be covered by the Produce Safety rule while others are not.

Second, while extremely rare in eastern Washington, spatial and temporal distribution of contamination events is poorly understood to date, making it difficult to determine optimum sampling locations.

However, research is underway in our region to determine if pooling of samples and involvement of irrigation districts would be possible in the future.

But the warehouse is cleaning my fruit while packing it, isn’t that enough?
It is important to realize that we do not currently have a kill step, such as pasteurization, in our industry.

We have made great progress in our packing houses to minimize cross contamination and even achieve microbial reductions.

But, even if a packing line is running all interventions at optimum capacity, current processes will not be able to remove all bacteria from the surface of a piece of produce, such as an apple.

Hence, it is really important to try to keep the product as clean as possible from the start.

– by Ines Hanrahan, a project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. For more information about the commission’s research and upcoming food safety requirements, visit www.wtfrc.org.