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FDA finally releases AG water rule for produce farming operations

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FDA finally releases AG water rule for produce farming operations

After more than a decade of debate, the Food and Drug Administration has published a final rule for certain agricultural water used in the production of products.

The new rule was mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011.

The FDA says the new rule reflects science and information gathered from several product-related outbreaks. The rule specifically addresses the potential water impacts of adjacent and nearby land, including the presence of livestock feedlots. Such feedlots have been implicated in fresh produce outbreaks. However, the FDA does not have the authority to enter feedlots during investigations into foodborne illness outbreaks.

The produce industry has had ample time and opportunity to provide input into the final rule, which has been in the works for years.

Although this is called the final rule on agricultural water, the rule does not cover pre-harvest and post-harvest water, such as the water used to wash produce before shipping. Such water is extensively used in the production of leafy vegetables, especially those that are pre-cut and used in packaged salads.

The rule only applies to pre-harvest water, such as the water used to irrigate crops. It does not cover water used in the production of sprouts, which is subject to a separate rule in the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“(The final rule) represents an important step toward improving product safety. The revised requirements are intended to improve public health by improving the safety of water used in growing produce. The revisions are also intended to be practical for various agricultural water systems, applications, and practices, while remaining adaptable to future developments in agricultural water quality science,” according to the FDA’s announcement of the final rule.

The final rule replaces certain pre-harvest water requirements for covered produce, other than sprouts, in the 2015 Product Safety Rule with requirements for system-based agricultural water assessments to determine and guide appropriate actions to minimize the potential risks associated with pre-harvest agricultural water . water. In concrete terms, this rule applies:

  • Establishes requirements for agricultural water assessments that evaluate a variety of factors that are important determinants of contamination risks associated with preharvest agricultural water. This includes an evaluation of the water system, water use practices, crop characteristics, environmental conditions, potential impacts to water from adjacent and nearby land, and other relevant factors.
  • Includes pre-harvest testing of agricultural water as part of an assessment under certain conditions.
  • Requires farms to implement effective mitigation measures within a specific time frame based on the findings from their assessments. Hazards associated with certain activities associated with adjacent and nearby land uses should be expedited.
  • Adds new options for mitigation measures, giving farms additional flexibility in responding to findings from their pre-harvest agricultural water assessments.

Under the new rule, farms are required to conduct a pre-harvest assessment of their agricultural water once a year, and whenever a significant change occurs, to identify conditions likely to introduce known or reasonably foreseeable hazards in or on covered products or surfaces that come into contact with food. .

Agricultural operations will need significant time to implement the changes necessary to meet the requirements of the new rule. The compliance dates for the rule are as follows:

  • For very small businesses: 2 years and 9 months after the effective date of the final rule;
  • For small businesses: 1 year, 9 months after the effective date of the final rule; And
  • For all other companies: 9 months after the effective date of the final rule

While industry was given the opportunity to provide input in writing the rule, the FDA says it is “committed to an ‘educate before and while we regulate’ approach to supporting compliance.”

Along with the rule, the FDA also released a number of fact sheets, including one with an overview of agricultural water assessments and mitigation measures, and another with more detail on factors for conducting these assessments.

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