On Wednesday, the FDA issued an official notice extending to January 4, 2010, the comment period on its draft guidances to minimize food safety hazards of leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons of August 3, 2009.

The draft guidances, published on July 31, 2009, are designed to help growers, producers, and others across the entire supply chain reduce or eliminate microbial contamination in tomatoes, leafy greens, and melons. The guidance plans, according to the FDA, “are, in part, based on those originally developed by the produce industry with assistance from the FDA.” The draft guidances aim to supplement existing guidelines by offering commodity-specific guidelines (CSGs) tailored to individual kinds of produce.

The first three publications focus on leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons, respectively. Two of those three, leafy greens and tomatoes, made the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Top 10 Riskiest Foods Regulated by the FDA list. Leafy greens topped the list at number one.    

The guidelines, say the FDA, represent a fundamental shift in the Agency’s strategy in the prevention of foodborne risks associated with fruits and vegetables.  “These guidances embody the Obama Administration’s and FDA’s prevention-oriented food safety strategy,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “They will be made final as soon as possible after public comment, and will be followed within two years by enforceable standards for fresh produce.”

Part of the finalization process involves allowing the public to comment on the draft guidances as they currently stand. The FDA has provided an opportunity for interested persons to submit comments about lessons learned from outbreak investigations, existing produce initiatives and programs, the responsibilities involved in the production of fresh produce, and more.

The FDA, according to the notice released on November 4, is extending the comment period “in response to requests for an extension to allow interested persons additional time to submit comments.”

Comments may be submitted at any time. However, the FDA has asked that comments be submitted within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register to allow ample consideration before drafting the final guidances.