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New USDA Survey to Measure Food Safety Practices

Why grower participation is vital to success

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in January 2011, affecting all stages of the food production and marketing supply chain, including the on-farm regulation of produce. In September 2015 the final version of the Preventative Controls rule (titled “Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Human Food”) was published in the Federal Register, and the final version of the Produce rule (“Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption”) was released on November 27, 2015.

While the Produce and Preventative Controls rules (among others) are well along in the rulemaking process, there are guidance documents and implementation strategies still to come. For this reason, fruit and vegetable growers and processors have a rare opportunity to raise understanding of food safety practices in their industries as the rules and guiding documents move through the federal rulemaking process.

FSMA’s Impact
The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) is looking into FSMA’s impact on the fruit and vegetable industry. Since data on the types of food safety practices currently in use within the produce industry is very limited, ERS is seeking detailed information from U.S. growers and postharvest operators through surveys being conducted by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Previously, the only national data on food safety practices was from a 1999 NASS survey, the year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first began publishing Good Agricultural Practices recommendations for handling produce. Needless to say, the produce world has undergone many major changes since then, especially with respect to food safety. Although significant progress has been made in implementing produce safety practices, the NASS surveys will provide a baseline to better understand the full impact new federal food safety requirements will have on growers and handlers.

Jim Gorny, vice president for food safety and technology for the Produce Marketing Association, acknowledges both the need for such a survey, and the necessary sharing of information by industry members. “Produce industry participation in this survey is encouraged and critically important to provide an accurate snapshot of current industry food safety practices,” he says.

Participation, Privacy & Confidentiality
For growers, NASS has added questions about food safety to the already scheduled Chemical Use surveys which will go out to 10,900 growers, divided between 2015 and 2016, with fruit producers receiving surveys in 2015 and vegetable growers in 2016. As usual with the Chemical Use surveys, a NASS representative will visit the business to conduct the survey in person.

A separate NASS survey for postharvest practices has been developed for use in late 2015 and early 2016 for all produce; this survey, however, will be conducted by mail and go out to 2,200 firms. Joseph T. Reilly, NASS’s administrator, encourages produce operations to take advantage of this opportunity “to provide a more complete picture of the food safety practices” currently in use within their businesses.