The Year Ahead

“The United States has been a beacon for how to negotiate and comply with trade agreements,” he adds. “To unilaterally drop out is a big change and it could have unexpected consequences with other trading partners.”

Trade is also a component of the Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization in 2018. It also contains key programs and backing for research, testing, and access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and funds state block grants for the produce industry.

“The Farm Bill has become the largest set of resources the federal government gives to our industry,” Guenther says, noting that United Fresh and other groups will be working to maintain and increase those targeted resources.

New Rules, Recalls & DNA Sequencing
With the arrival of the latest round of compliance deadlines for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), there are still some grey areas like between the Produce Safety rule, which covers growers, and the Preventative Controls for Humans rule, which covers processing, packing, and warehousing facilities. Water-testing protocols are among the other issues not yet resolved.

One aspect of FSMA to watch in 2018, according to Mike Bentel, a food safety specialist and founder of Food Safety Management Advisors, involves importers that fall under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program.

“The industry has been overly dependent on audits as a safety tool, but they’re based on global standards and do not necessarily encompass U.S. food safety laws,” Bentel explains. “People are under the impression that if they score 90 percent on a food safety audit, they’re in compliance with the law—but that’s not true—or untrue. One does not parallel the other.”

Bart Botta, partner at the law firm of Rynn & Janowsky, LLP in Newport Beach, CA, says one of the big changes is the power of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue mandatory recalls when a problem occurs. Recalls can improve public security, he notes, and so does the FDA’s enforcement authority.

Bentel concurs and says the FDA is improving its ability to hold specific growers, packers, and others accountable for safety problems, thanks to the expansion of DNA sequencing to identify foodborne pathogens and trace them to their source.

There’s even a database to link illnesses to a particular pathogen and connect disparate cases across the country.

While the technology has been around for a decade, it has become less expensive and the FDA has been expanding the program to include more pathogens. “This will have a significant impact on the industry as it expands,” predicts Bentel.

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