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Food Safety Summit discusses produce rule implementation

By DOROTHY NOBLE
AFP Correspondent

BALTIMORE (May 12, 2015) — Despite earlier riots and the threat of continued civil unrest, the Food Safety Summit Expo and Conference on April 28–30 at the Baltimore Convention Center stayed on course.
Educational sessions spanned multiple aspects of food safety systems, including implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, consumer demands, elimination of food waste, consumer demands and technology.
The session on managing options of the produce safety rule featured speakers from diverse produce operations.
Fazila Shakir, a staff fellow in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Food Safety, updated the attendees on the implementation process.
She said working closely with the states, the Produce Safety Alliance, the Sprout Safety Alliance, plus the USDA and FDA’s technical assistance center is helping the development of meaningful metrics for success.
Dr. Jim Gorny, vice president of food safety and technology at the Produce Marketing Association, urged the group attending to “Prepare now,” for FSMA’s implementation. Pointing to the $109 million request in the 2016 budget, Gorny emphasized that the states need training and harmonization information.
Gorny also said the state departments of agriculture understand agriculture in their particular state. PMA, which includes members in 45 countries, represents all of the produce supply chain.
On its website, www.pma.com, PMA provides data on all seven of the proposed FSMA rules. Gorny said it includes information on the latest proposal on implementation. The comment period on FDA’s plans ends May 26, 2015.
Eva Lauve, food safety manager for Stemilt Growers, noted that their growers at first questioned its need since they have never had a problem with food safety. They started in 2003 with the Good Agricultural Practices analysis.
Lauve reported that at that time she was shocked with the ‘shoebox’ records systems of many growers, but now she’s 95 percent confident their 560 growers at 1,100 farms will be prepared when the rules are finalized and implemented. Stemilt Growers market and grow apples, cherries and pears in Washington State.
As a grower and manager of a CSA in New Mexico, Steve Warshawer said local and regional food systems must balance safe food, cost and complexity. He noted that small producers may stay small and limit markets. He added that community-based systems, which include growers, food hubs, cooperatives, aggregators and Extension personnel all interact and help each other within a culture of food safety and quality.
Warshawer also stressed that scale-appropriate is preferable to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and that an industry monitoring program is needed.
Senior policy and science advisor Bob Ehart of the National Association of the State Departments of Agriculture said that successful implementation of FSMA relies on several things during the coming months. Funding, in particular, is essential.
Ehart emphasized that the majority of states do not have adequate funding. Also, some states can be rigid about unfunded mandates.
NASDA has an agreement with FDA on implementation. Ehart noted that the agriculture departments must be evaluated regarding the status of the their plans, process and capabilities, personnel and changes needed to implement FSMA.
Outreach education by the agriculture departments and cooperative extension need both guidance and funding, Ehart stressed.
FDA is under a court order to issue the finalized produce safety rule by Oct. 31. Background information and updates are regularly posted at www. fda.gov/fsma.