A Palatable FAQ for Arizona’s Small Scale Farmers on the Food Safety Modernization Act
Food Safety can be a frustrating set of rules to navigate, but we have a shared responsibility to ensure the food we eat is traceable and safe.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA (often pronounced “FIZZ-MUH”) has given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authority to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested, packed, held, and cooled.
Back in November of 2015, the Produce Safety Rule was released with staggered compliance dates for growers. The Rule established science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) has recently been awarded the resources to educate, train, inventory, and inspect growers, packers, harvesters, and holders of produce under the Rule, which is why we’ve all been hearing more about the upcoming changes as of late.
Have questions about FSMA? Below is a breakdown of how to be in compliance with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule:
Does this affect me?
Most of Arizona’s small scale farmers are not covered by the “Rule” (but keep reading).
Requirements for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule exempts:
Produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity. (A raw agricultural commodity is any food in its raw or natural state)
The following produce commodities which FDA has identified as "rarely consumed raw": asparagus; black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans; garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets; cashews; sour cherries; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; sweet corn; cranberries; dates; dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; horseradish; hazelnuts; lentils; okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts
Food grains, including barley, dent- or flint-corn, sorghum, oats, rice, rye, wheat, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and oilseeds (e.g. cotton seed, flax seed, rapeseed, soybean, and sunflower seed)
Produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption
Farms that sell less than $25,000 of fresh produce annually (when averaged over a 3 year period).
Those Growers, Packers, Harvesters, and Holders whose average 3 year annual sales fall below $500,000 and only sell to a consumer, restaurant, or retail food establishment within 275 miles of where the produce is grown (and in-state) can apply for a qualified exemption.
To verify your exemption, click here.
Phew, I’m not covered by the Rule. What else do I need to know?
In the event you are not required to comply, it is still recommended that you review the NEW “Small Entity Compliance Guide” to understand the FDA’s current thinking on this topic in order to refine your practices and remain compliant with standards as you scale up. Furthermore, Arizona State Department of Agriculture is offering a number of free resources (outlined below) that are still available to you.
All farms still must complete the FSMA Produce Safety Rule Questionnaire to indicate whether you are covered by the “Rule” and to what level. The questionnaire can be found here.
If I am covered by the “Rule”, how do I come into compliance?
The Arizona Department of Agriculture is committed to supporting local growers. To meet this end, AZDA is offering free outreach and training on the Produce Safety Rule to help folks come into compliance. All Farms, whether covered or not covered by the “Rule”, are invited to take advantage of these FREE resources.
Grower Training Class (required for all operations above $25,000 annual sales, highly recommended for all): This is an all-day, one-day class only that has to be taken only once by the food safety representative from your farm. The class will be offered by Certified Trainers from the State Department of Agriculture and will eventually be held in your area (within a 1 hour drive). Additionally, trainers can help you develop a food safety plan for your farm if you currently do not have one. Though the class is free, no travel reimbursement is currently available.
On Farm Reviews (available to all): Offered to any farm to assist in compliance efforts. The AZDA is in the process of hiring trainers and inspectors to provide technical assistance and pre-inspection visits to offer advice and guidance. ADZA offers to provide your farm with an on Farm Readiness Review which will provide you with all the tools necessary to address the requirements under the Rule.
What if I already have a 3rd Party Food Safety Certification?
Those who currently have third party audits under GMP/GHP are already in substantial compliance with the Produce Safety Rule.
Arizona and California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA) programs have updated their required food safety practices so they are in alignment with new federal food safety laws. This means that the 90% of the leafy greens produced in the U.S. and certified through LGMA’s system of mandatory government audits will be in compliance with the Produce Safety Rule under FSMA.
Who enforces the FSMA Produce Safety Rule?
Most of the enforcing in Arizona will be done by the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA). The FDA will enforce the “Rule” for all Tribal Entities.
What’s the timeline?
The FDA will need to roll out the inspection protocol and criteria before inspections begin, so the first inspections likely will not happen until early- to mid- 2019.
The following are the compliance dates depending on your average produce sales:
Note: a previous version of this post
listed 2019, which was a typo
Check out the FDA website: www.fda.gov/FSMA
Local First Arizona Foundation and Good Food Finder AZ are always here to help our small-scale producers. If you have any questions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us, as well.