Produce Safety Rule Compliance Updates and Training Sessions

  • Jan 30, 2018

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in January 2011 to ensure actions are taken to mitigate food safety risks. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule is applicable to California avocado growers and the first compliance deadline has passed. As of January 26, 2018, growers with more than $500,000 in average annual produce sales during the previous three-year period must be able to demonstrate compliance with the Produce Safety Rule.

Deadlines for all producers are as follows:

  • January 26, 2020 deadline for very small businesses — more than $25,000 but no more than $250,000 in average annual produce sales during the previous three-year period
  • January 26, 2019 deadline for small businesses — more than $250,000 but no more than $500,000 in average annual produce sales during the previous three-year period
  • January 26, 2018 deadline for all other farms

Under the Produce Safety Rule a grower or farm representative must go through a one-time 8-hour training. It’s important to note that the training follows the person — if a designated food safety employee who receives the training leaves a company, another employee will need to be trained. The Produce Safety Rule does not require growers to be food safety certified beyond the one-time 8-hour training.

The Commission has tentatively scheduled two 8-hour training sessions for California avocado growers to take place on April 24 (Escondido) and April 26 (Ventura). The anticipated cost for the training session is $35. The Commission will release more information concerning the training sessions once the details have been finalized.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has contracted with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for the inspection and enforcement of the Produce Safety Rule. Ken Melban, California Avocado Commission (CAC) vice president of industry affairs, has been working with CDFA for the last few months as they develop their plan. This year there will be no inspection/enforcement activities; CDFA will focus on education and outreach. Random on-farm inspections will commence in January 2019.

Ken Melban also participated in an FDA training session for CDFA staff concerning the inspection and enforcement of the Produce Safety Rule. He also arranged for FDA/CDFA to conduct a mock inspection of an avocado grove that is GFS certified to see how a grower who is GFS certified will fare under a CDFA Produce Safety Rule inspection. Over the next few months CAC will work with CDFA to schedule a few On-Farm-Readiness-Reviews with groves that are GFS certified to further confirm how the GFS certification stacks up against the Produce Safety Rule.

The initial water testing frequency requirements, as first finalized by FDA, will not fulfill the Produce Safety Rule requirements. However, based on industry input, FDA has extended those agricultural water compliance dates. FDA is now working on new standards, and until the final standards are released it will be impossible to determine if current GFS standards are compliant. FDA has extended the water compliance dates for the largest farms until January 26, 2022. Small farms and very small farms would have until January 26, 2023, and January 26, 2024, respectively.

For growers in the recent flood/mudslide area, when asked: “Has flooding from uncontrolled causes occurred?” – you will have to answer yes and will need to complete a NUOCA (Notice of Unusual Occurrence and Corrective Action) Form. The grower will need to list the flood event and describe corrective actions that were taken (e.g. removed debris; looked for possible sources of contamination; none found; etc.). Growers also will need to complete a NUOCA if they experienced fire damage in their grove.

The decision to go through the audit process remains — as it has always been — squarely with each grower. Growers who maintain their annual GFS certification will most likely be able to demonstrate Produce Safety Rule compliance should they get inspected by CDFA. Food Safety certification also will provide the certification many buyers are requesting and/or requiring.

CAC will continue to keep growers apprised of developments concerning GFS certification and the Produce Safety Rule.

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