USDA to streamline Good Ag Practices with food safety rule

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WASHINGTON — In an effort to streamline federal food safety requirements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration recently announced the alignment of the USDA Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices Audit Program with the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule.

Specialty crop farmers who take advantage of a USDA Harmonized GAP audit now will have a much greater likelihood of passing a FSMA inspection as well. This means a single stop at USDA helps producers meet federal regulatory requirements, and continue to produce safe, American-grown food.

While the requirements of both programs are not identical, the relevant technical components in the FDA Produce Safety Rule are covered in the USDA H-GAP Audit Program.

Aligned topics

The alignment includes areas such as biological soil amendments; sprouts; domesticated and wild animals; worker training; health and hygiene; and equipment, tools and buildings. The alignment is intended to help farmers by enabling them to assess their food safety practices as they prepare to comply with the federal rule.

However, the USDA audits are not a substitute for FDA or state regulatory inspections.

“We’re committed to working with USDA to pursue our shared goal of advancing food safety in a way that is efficient and helps farmers meet our regulatory standards,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “(This) announcement will help FDA and states better prioritize our inspectional activities by using USDA H-GAP audit information to prioritize inspectional resources and ultimately enhance our overall ability to protect public health.”

More data

Inspections are key to helping to ensure that produce safety standards are being met, but they only provide a snapshot in time. Leveraging the data and work being done by USDA will provide USDA with more information so that the agency can develop a clearer understanding of the safety and vulnerabilities on produce farms, the commissioner said.

The Produce Safety Rule, which went into effect on Jan. 26, 2016, establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.

The rule is part of the FDA’s ongoing efforts to implement FSMA. Large farming operations were required to comply with the rule in January 2018. However, the FDA had previously announced that inspections to assess compliance with the Produce Safety Rule for produce other than sprouts would not begin until Spring 2019.

Small and very small farms have additional time to comply.

Good practices

The USDA Harmonized GAP Audit Program is an audit developed as part of the Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative, an industry-driven effort to develop food safety GAP standards and audit checklists for pre-harvest and post-harvest operations.

The Initiative is a collaborative effort on the part of growers, shippers, produce buyers, audit organizations and government agencies, including USDA.

The USDA Harmonized GAP audit, in keeping with the Initiative’s goals, is applicable to all fresh produce commodities, all sizes of on-farm operations and all regions in the United States. For more information visit: www.ams.usda.gov.

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