Federal food safety act to take effect next month

12/06/2015 7:00 AM |

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Many things come with a new year — new resolutions, new opportunities and, for some local produce farmers, new federal guidelines.

On Jan. 26, the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act will officially take effect, establishing “science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption,” the FDA website reads.

Sandy Menasha, a vegetable/potato specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension, said the new regulations mean farmers will need to keep additional records, have a written farm food safety plan, conduct regular water testing for E. coli and follow regulations regarding planting after laying manure or compost.

A farm food safety plan is a guide to minimizing the potential for produce contamination, and can contain the farm’s policies and practices for keeping products safe.

“Our growers here on Long Island have been doing a great job managing food safety,” said Ms. Menasha. “I think that it’s good to have a rule in place for food safety, but it does add an extra burden to the small farmer.

“Cost is a huge thing, especially for small farmers that we have here on Long Island,” she continued. “Usually, at larger corporate farms, they can hire somebody to be in charge of food safety. Usually at small family farms, the farmer himself is the farmer, the manager, the businessman, the record keeper, the food safety guy — he’s doing everything — so to add one more responsibility is [a lot].”

Chris Laughton, director of knowledge exchange at Farm Credit East, agreed that local farms will be affected by the act, but said many will be exempt.

“If they have average annual gross revenue of less than $500,000 and sell most of their products within 275 miles, then they’re exempt from most of the rules,” he said, stressing that farms have to meet both requirements to be exempt from FSMA.

He added that the majority of the produce has to be sold to qualified end users, which include consumers, restaurants and grocery stores — either within the same state or within the aforementioned 275 miles. Although some local farms will be exempt from these guidelines, Mr. Laughton said some grocery stores are considering requiring farmers to comply with FSMA, even if the FDA exempts them.

The guidelines resulted from a string of food-borne illness outbreaks that occurred across the country in the early 2000s, and were signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, according to the FDA website.

Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in six Americans — approximately 48 million people — contracts a food-borne disease. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

A 2014 CDC Food Safety Progress Report cited a 13 percent increase in campylobacter and a 52 percent increase in vibrio since 2008. Conversely, the report noted a 32 percent reduction in E. coli cases and a 22 percent drop in yersenia. No changes were reported in the rates of salmonella and listeria between 2008 and 2014.

Ms. Menasha emphasized that local food has always been safe, saying, “No food-borne illness outbreak is associated with Long Island farms.”

Although the act officially takes effect Jan. 26 — 60 days after the Nov. 27 Federal Register post date — farms, depending on their size, have between two and four years to come into full compliance with FSMA. The smaller the farm, the more time it is allowed.

The complete FSMA guidelines can be found on the FDA website.

Photo Caption: Peter Tollner shops for tomatoes at Bayview Farms & Market Tuesday (Credit: Nicole Smith).

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