After the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law, somebody I don’t remember who told me there was one ticklish part.

FSMA for the first time put the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the farm or at least all the farms growing produce.    It’s at least the biggest on-the-farm assignment for FDA.    The Produce Safety Rule (PSR) was a long-time in the making.

Water quality for growing food was the subject of multiple sessions this past week at the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) virtual annual meeting.   I decided to sit at the “Dirt on your boots” round table to see how things are going with FDA’s new PSR task..

The session, which featured state and federal regulators along with some farm managers, was interesting.   There’s been some anxiety on the farm over FDA’s new role.  

But FDA did something really smart by staging its work with state Departments of Agriculture.  And together FDA and the states, are approaching produce growers with the offer of a free on-Farm Readiness Reviews (OFRR),  as an informal check before any formal inspection.

While the FSMA was born on Jan. 4, 2011, the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) is fairly new because it’s taken time to draft, implement, and enforce.

Some states like Kentucky in 2020 took the extra step of getting their own legislative authority to work with the feds on PSR enforcement.

 “The new law eliminates the need for federal inspection of our produce farms and places inspectional oversight under KDA field representatives who work in cooperation with the University of Kentucky (UK) and the Kentucky Food Safety Branch,” .said Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles. “In short, producers will be working with Kentuckians who know them and know Kentucky agriculture.”

So while the FSMA tasked FDA with implementing the new produce safety protocols, it in turn entered into cooperative agreements with the states to implement the rule.   Almost every state has an agreement with FDA.

Fruit and vegetable growers averaging $25,000 or above in annual sales during the previous three years (adjusted for inflation)   fall under the PSR and are required to fill out a farm survey and attend a seven-hour Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower Training course.

States offer the training, sometimes virtually, for free and conduct “Readiness” reviews.  The Readiness Reviews are voluntary.

And when requested,  state and FDA staff will come to a farm; assess the farm’s produce production, harvest, and handling operations; and make recommendations to help the farm comply with the PSR.

The several states that participated in the IAFP round table are high on Readiness Reviews.   Tensions that may exist usually melt away after several hours on the farm for the off-the-record visit.    During a Readiness Review, the produce farmers might take notes, but the regulators are not writing anything down.   Both get “dirt on the boots,” and obvious issues are often resolved before the inspection.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s (NASDA’s) Bob Ehart says “educate before you regulate.”  He sees NASDA as “the buffer” between the farm and FDA.  “FSMA is a complicated law, and PSR Isi a complicated rule, Ehart says. The anonymous and private Readiness Review may provide the grease to make it all work.

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