Reinforce Your Good Agricultural Practices to Comply with the Produce Safety Rule

Most growers will need to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) over the next few years (see our last blog). Thankfully, while the FDA establishes standards to follow, they have not mandated specific documents or procedures. This gives farmers the flexibility to design their own Produce Safety Manual.

For some growers, this may mean strengthening their existing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). This articles highlights those areas to help farmers come into compliance with FSMA.

As a reminder, Primary Production Farms (traditional growers) and Secondary Activities Farm (traditional co-op huller/shellers) should have a Produce Safety Plan in place by the following dates based on crop value:

Compliance dates

Jan. 26, 2018 – Greater than $500,000 in crop value

Jan. 28, 2019 — $250,000 – $500,000 in crop value

Jan. 27, 2020 — $25,000 – $250,000 in crop value

Note: Agricultural Water and Soil Amendments are excluded from the four food safety areas mentioned below. Deadlines for these standards have been pushed back at least two years from initial compliance dates.

Employee Qualification and Training

FSMA contains several requirements to build food safety into the daily job duties of supervisors and workers. This begins with at least one supervisor or responsible party successfully completing food safety training. In addition, there should be in place:

  1. Job-specific requirements for supervisors and workers. These should verify individuals are qualified upon-hire to perform their job. In addition, there should be ongoing training to keep workers current on best practices for their role.
  2. Training specific to food hygiene and food safety related to an individual’s job.
  3. Hygiene programs unique to a Farm’s operation, such as restroom locations, sanitation zones and requirements, hand washing and drying procedures, etc.

Growers may want to ensure documents are in place that describe specific training programs given, how often, and an example of the training materials. It may also be helpful to create, use and retain original sign-in sheets (English and Spanish) to validate training took place with verification step.

Worker Hygiene

Once qualified to perform their duties in a manner that helps maintain food safety, FSMA then provides guidance on awareness and training in three, additional areas of hygiene. Specific to protecting covered products and food-contact surfaces from contamination, there should be policies in place to address:

  1. Specific personal hygiene practices, such as cleanliness standards and dress, removal of hand jewelry and other belongings, eating and drinking rules, etc.
  2. Managing sick persons on the worksite.
  3. Visitor contamination prevention.

Building, Tools and Equipment

The portion of FSMA regulations applying to building, tools and equipment are designed to prevent these sources – and the inadequate sanitation of them – from contaminating covered produce. To minimize these chances, growers should document by location a workflow showing how product makes its way through their operation. This will note the buildings, tools and equipment that will come in contact with the crop. For each of these areas, consider describing the steps taken to ensure:

  1. Equipment is designed, installed and stored to allow for adequate cleaning and maintenance; and
  2. Inspected, maintained, and cleaned when appropriate and as frequent as necessary to protect against contamination.

To help show compliance with these measure, growers may wish to develop and use a daily cleaning logs. These reports should record actual dates, times and steps taken when cleaning and sanitizing equipment and transport containers. The logs should be signed and dated by the operator, and verified and signed by a quality supervisor.

A Produce Safety Plan may also want to address these additional topics noted in the regulations:

  1. How potentially contaminated produce is identified and removed from the workflow.
  2. Steps taken to prevent against contamination from known, or reasonably foreseeable, hazards.
  3. The use of packaging, storage and shipping materials are adequate for their intended use and unlikely to support the growth or transfer of microbes.

Domesticated and Wild Animals

If there is a reasonable chance of intrusion by grazing, working, wild or domesticated animals, growers may want to document this likelihood and steps taken to prevent and monitor the situation. To help ensure compliance, consider creating or downloading a simple, site-identified inspection checklist. Be sure to maintain original, signed copies. Consider at least an annual, formal survey of the farming operations and how animal intrusion is being reduced. This portion of the Plan may include:

  • Who is doing the inspections and how often.
  • The preventive steps taken to control contamination from animals, such as the removing traps and dead animals in a timely manner, cleaning procedures for droppings, roof and other scheduled maintenance, etc.
  • Corrective action steps. If there becomes evidence of animal intrusion, what steps will be taken to immediately correct the situation and update the plan to prevent future occurrences.

Recordkeeping

As mentioned, compliance with the Produce Safety Rule may be achieved by using existing GAP documents. In that or any case, there are additional recordkeeping requirements to keep in mind. For the Produce Safety Manual double-check that:

  1. Names and physical addresses of specific locations are on the paperwork.
  2. Actual values and observations are reported. No rounding, strikethroughs or N/As.
  3. An adequate description exists for traceability of covered produce through the operations, such as product type, lot number, source orchard, or other identifiers.
  4. Location of the Growing and/or Post-Harvest zones. An FDA inspection may pay more attention to these areas during inspection.

Records may be print or electronic, so long as they are reasonably the same. For electronic records, this means files should be accessible for daily use, allow for signature capture, kept secure, and allow for verification. There is a two year retention requirement from the date the record was created. Records should also be retrievable within 24 hours of request for official review.

A best practice may be to maintain one Produce Safety Manual in one location. It may reference other documents stored on property, such as in Human Resources or on the production floor.  Employees should be trained about where the manual is located, how it relates to their job, and how they are empowered to create a Food Safety First culture.

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