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Tree fruit growers and shippers will work several fronts in developing comments to food safety proposals.

The Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry is working on several fronts as it begins formulating a response to more than 1,100 pages of proposed food safety regulations that were released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last Friday.

Two parts of the regulatory package being proposed to enforce the Food Safety Modernization Act were publicly released last week: Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption; and Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food, which addresses food companies that manufacture, process, pack, or store food. The full text of the two rules will be published on January 16, 2013 in the Federal Register. The new food safety act was signed into law by President Obama in 2011 and will bring sweeping changes to the food chain, from grower to retailer. Other parts of the new law will be proposed later in the year by FDA.

Pacific Northwest Food Safety Committee

Several years ago, the Pacific Northwest Food Safety Committee was appointed by the Northwest Horticultural Council to work on food safety issues, identify needed research and pursue such research, and coordinate the industry on the issues. Committee members include packing house and orchard food safety experts and university food scientists and researchers. The committee, chaired by Warren Morgan of Double Diamond Fruit Company in Quincy, Washington, now shifts its immediate focus to reviewing and responding to the FDA proposal. A committee conference call is scheduled for next week. Subcommittees of the full food safety committee will be appointed to divide the proposal into workable sections.

Christian Schlect, president of the Hort Council, said the tree fruit industry had hoped its crops would be regulated based on risk, but FDA is lumping the produce industry together as it focuses on prevention instead of risk. Already, a few topics in the proposal have been identified as problematic areas for the tree fruit industry: quality of water that comes in contact with fruit or vegetables, including during the growing season; exclusion of animals from all fields; and worker hygiene. Schlect shared his thoughts on the proposal in his most recent blog post, Drugged Media.

The Northwest tree fruit industry, through the Hort Council, will also work with the national groups United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Apple Association, and Produce Marketing Association in developing a response for the FDA proposed rule. Schlect serves on a United Fresh committee to review the grower proposal, while the Hort Council’s Deborah Carter serves on United Fresh's packer-shipper food safety committee. Schlect also is chair of a food safety committee convened by U.S. Apple.

“Through USApple, orchardists in Michigan, New York, Washington, and other states will work together so that we can present as united a front as we can to FDA,” Schlect said. He’s also meeting with the citrus, grape, and tree fruit industries from California to coordinate efforts.

Deadline for public comments to FDA’s two-part proposed rule is May 16. However, Schlect believes there is possibility the deadline will be extended due to the complexity and volume of the proposal.