USA – The Food and Drug Administration of the United States has announced that it is advancing new tools and science for implementing agricultural water requirements for produce safety.
The agency has said the additional initiatives are meant to ensure the feasibility of federal requirements and incorporate lessons learned from recent outbreaks related to Romaine lettuce.
This is part of the strategy to implement preventative measures as part of the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The new tools will enable the agency to further bolster the nation’s food safety system by ensuring the produce is safe right from the farm to the consumer.
According to FDA, the diversity of how farmers source water used in the growing, harvesting, and packing and holding of produce can contribute to the challenges in implementing measures to efficiently mitigate potential risks.
The Produce Safety Rule sets out science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables.
By working in close collaboration with farmers, FDA said it has identified areas of the rule’s agricultural water requirements that may need refinement or explanation to ensure they are protective of public health.
More time for on-farm implementation
In September 2017, FDA proposed to delay the compliance dates for the rule’s agricultural water requirements, indicating that it needed time to ensure effective implementation of farms.
In line with this, FDA has announced that it has formally extended the compliance dates for the rule’s agricultural water requirements for large farms to January 2022, small farms to January 2023, and very small farms to January 2024.
The extension is designed to provide additional time to ensure the FDA applies the best thinking to clarify standards for pre-harvest microbial water quality and to continue working closely with produce farmers on sensible approaches to protect consumers.
“We continue to work with stakeholders on the agricultural water requirements, and efforts to make sure that water is suitable for its intended use, and that farms continue using good agricultural practices to maintain and protect the quality of their water sources, and ensure that the food they produce is not adulterated under the FD&C Act,” said a statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas.
Following the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region last year, FDA recently issued an environmental assessment, which noted that the outbreak most likely occurred from water used on multiple farms from a contaminated irrigation canal.
The requirements identify agricultural water used in growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables for human consumption as a potential source of contamination as well as a means by which contamination can spread.
This can include water used to grow crops, to clean harvested crops, and water sprayed on harvested produce in order to prevent dehydration.
Various water sources available to farmers including wells, ponds, rivers, creeks and canals can carry pathogens that can potentially contaminate crops.