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LGMA Hosts Webinar With FDA Explaining Parts of FSMA

Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration participated with the California and Arizona leafy greens community on a webinar to review and discuss recent revisions to the Food Safety Modernization Act.  The job of implementing sweeping new federal food safety laws is enormous and throughout the process FDA has been extremely responsive to stakeholders.  Not only has the agency carefully considered input received from public comments by adjusting the pending rules, but they have made themselves available to answer questions and provide updates.

Yesterday was no exception. FDA staff members Samir Assar, Director Produce Safety, and Jenny Scott, Senior Advisory to the Director of the Office of Food Safety, both from FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition along with Ritu Nalubola, Ph.D., Senior Policy Advisor with FDA’s Office of Policy spent over an hour with us.

The team provided a thorough overview of revisions made to the Produce Safety Rule as well as the Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule as they impact leafy greens.  As part of the presentation, FDA explained how comments received on the definition of a “harvest” resulted in important changes to accommodate packaging and coring operations that traditionally take place in leafy greens fields.  Other changes discussed included definitions of a small business; a relaxing of the original rule’s requirements with respect to organic soil amendments; and a new approach for water testing that requires farms to establish a thorough understanding of the quality of the water source being used and then intermittent testing to verify no changes have occurred. This is a departure from the original rule which required excessive water tests.

Several weeks ago, the LGMA provided greater details from our perspective on the rule revisions.  We are also working on revising documents that show a side-by-side comparison of the LGMA metrics and the current FSMA rules. Those will be available soon and the LGMA will keep monitoring the rules which will be updated again in October 2015 after another round of public comments.

Of course, there are still many outstanding questions.  Following the thorough explanation of rule revisions, FDA participated in a Q&A session with webinar participants.  One of the top questions on everyone’s mind is how the new FDA laws will interact with the LGMA. Will the LGMA metrics change to reflect the new laws? Will additional government audits be required beyond the mandatory government audits that already exist through the LGMA? Exactly how will this all work?

Much of these remains to be seen as FDA continues to explore how this comprehensive new law will be implemented.  But here is what we do know –the LGMA is staying on top of all developments in the rules that make up FSMA.  We regularly provide comment to the rules and have been working closely with FDA to make sure that LGMA metrics are aligned with – or exceed – the requirements of FSMA. We want to be sure that when the new laws take effect, that all California leafy greens farmers participating in the LGMA will be in full compliance.

With respect to additional inspections, LGMA has been advocating that FDA utilize our existing system of government audit as verification that our members are in compliance with FSMA.  We have had good response from FDA on this issue. In addition, FDA recently announced a new partnership with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture with the goal being to efficiently implement FSMA laws.

As FDA’s Samir Assar explained during yesterday’s webinar, the agency has limited resources when it comes to conducting farm inspections for the entire produce industry. He noted that FDA will need to utilize existing resources in order to accomplish the goals of FSMA.

With that said, the LGMA is perfectly positioned as not only a resource for providing government inspection of a vast majority of the leafy greens produced in the U.S., but we can also offer over seven years of experience in successful implementation of a comprehensive food safety system.

It’s refreshing to see the level of collaboration between government and industry that is going on to implement FSMA. We appreciate FDA’s continued efforts to interact with us and to learn about our program.  Equally important is the FDA’s willingness to make sure industry understands its new laws and how they are being developed.  Thanks to everyone from both the FDA and within our own industry who participated in yesterday’s webinar.

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