To make the oversight of food safety stronger and more efficient, US FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a new collaboration to streamline produce safety requirements for farmers by aligning the USDA Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices Audit Program (USDA H-GAP) with requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule.
This effort is an important step toward ensuring that produce safety standards overall are better understood and met by produce farmers. It follows the signing of a formal agreement earlier in 2018 that outlined plans to increase interagency coordination regarding produce safety, inspections of dual jurisdiction facilities and biotechnology activities.
The Produce Safety Rule, which went into effect January 26, 2016, establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. This rule is part of the FDA’s ongoing efforts to implement FSMA.
A key compliance date for produce arrived in January 2018 for large farms. However, the FDA had previously announced that inspections to assess compliance with the Produce Safety Rule for produce other than sprouts would not begin until spring 2019. Key compliance dates for small and very small farms begin in January 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Sprout operations have been required to be in compliance with the Produce Safety Rule since January 2017 for the largest operations because sprouts have a unique vulnerability to contamination.
While farmers prepare for regulatory inspections that assess compliance with the Produce Safety Rule, they also face requirements from most produce buyers to meet market access standards as a condition of sale. USDA H-GAP audits are a tool farms can use to demonstrate to buyers that they are implementing effective food safety standards now aligned with the Produce Safety Rule. However, they are not a substitute for regulatory inspections conducted to ensure compliance with the rule.
Farmers interested in learning more about this alignment and what they can do to prepare for compliance with the Produce Safety Rule can contact their regional representative of the Produce Safety Network or find more information at www.fda.gov/fsma.