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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 more frequently asked questions. Write to us at shannon@goodfruit.com for any suggested topics.

What FSMA rules do I need to pay attention to?

As a result of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) signed into law in 2011, all tree fruit growers and packers will be required to comply with at least one new regulation within the next few years.

The rules that may impact your operation include the following:

Produce Safety rule: With very few exceptions (i.e. you can prove that 100 percent of the fruit you grow goes to a processor with a kill step like canning or pasteurization, or your annual sales are less than $25,000), all growers will be required to follow the Produce Safety rule. Compliance dates begin on Jan. 26, 2018, with an additional one or two years if your annual sales are less than $500,000.

In addition, packing houses and cold storage facilities that meet the farm definition (which is based on ownership structure and location, not activities performed) will be required to follow this rule.

Preventive Controls for Human Food rule: Packing houses and cold storage facilities that do not meet the farm definition will be required to follow the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule written for processors.

The initial compliance date for this rule is also Jan. 26, 2018, with additional time allowed for facilities with less than 500 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees or less than $1 million in sales.

Preventive Controls for Animal Food rule: Packing houses that do not meet the farm definition and send culls to be used for animal feed will be required to follow this rule, with compliance dates that mirror those for the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

Intentional Adulteration rule: Again, packing houses and storage facilities that do not meet the farm definition will be required to comply with the Intentional Adulteration rule.

Compliance with this rule, which deals with preventing terrorism or other efforts to intentionally contaminate the U.S. food supply, will become mandatory on May 27, 2019, with additional time for facilities with less than 500 FTE employees or less than $10 million in annual sales.

Sanitary Transportation rule: This rule will impact the transportation of produce leaving the packing house; transportation of fruit from the orchard to the packing house is largely exempt, although there may be cases where the rule will apply.

Larger businesses will be required to be in compliance by April 6, 2017, while those with fewer than 500 FTE employees have an additional year.

Foreign Supplier Verification rule: This rule will impact packinghouses or marketing companies that import produce from other countries.

The compliance date will be May 27, 2017, or six months after the supplier’s compliance date — which in the case of tree fruit, would be no earlier than July 2018.

What should I be doing now to prepare for compliance with the Produce Safety rule?

Educate yourself as best you can. Each farm will be required to have at least one person who has completed training with curriculum developed by the Produce Safety Alliance before your farm’s compliance date.

Contact your packer’s food safety staff to find out about training opportunities in your area; in Washington, you may also contact Jacqui Gordon of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association at jacqui@wstfa.org.

Take a look at your farm’s current food safety program and start thinking about what changes may be required.

You are likely already doing much of what the Produce Safety rule requires due to the current food safety requirements of your retail customers.

However, there will be places where both record-keeping, and the food safety practices themselves, may have to change.

For example, the rule includes comprehensive new water sampling requirements, so you should start thinking about whether you have access to the laboratory expertise needed to comply with the new requirements, where on your farm these tests should be conducted, and where you may need more information before making that decision.

What should I expect once the Produce Safety rule compliance date for my farm arrives?

You will be required on day one to have at least one person on the payroll who is trained in the Produce Safety Alliance curriculum, and have the records verifying that all employees have received adequate food safety training for their specific job.

As the year progresses, you will be required to show, through written records, that all growing and packing activities are being conducted in compliance with the various requirements within the Produce Safety rule.

An inspector, either from your state department of agriculture or FDA, may show up at any time (it may be during the first year, or several years later) to review your records.

In addition, retail customers will also likely start requiring farmers and packers to provide verification that the Produce Safety rule is being followed.

– by Kate Woods, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

For questions on the FSMA law and its requirements, contact her at woods@nwhort.org or Laura Grunenfelder, also of the NHC, at laura@nwhort.org. Contact Jacqui Gordon (jacqui@wstfa.org) with the Washington State Tree Fruit Association for questions on food safety training opportunities and Dr. Ines Hanrahan (hanrahan@treefruitresearch.com) of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission for information on research related to FSMA and food safety.