Food Safety

FDA should take over produce safety standards

June 2, 2009
/ Print / Reprints /
/ Text Size+

FDA hasn't provided guidance for 11 years so now there are too many "standards"

A side-by-side analysis of a variety of produce standards shows significant variations in guidance given to fruit and vegetable growers regarding what steps to take to minimize microbial contamination in light of federal rules, says a report from the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University.

Since FDA issued its voluntary produce safety guidance 11 years ago, a number of organizations have stepped into the regulatory void and adopted their own standards for the growth and harvest of fresh produce. Some standards are general in nature, and others are commodity specific, says the report.

The PSP analyzed six standards, including FDA’s 1998 Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) guidance document. The analysis revealed this guidance lacks many of the criteria found in newer standards. FDA announced late last year that it intends to update its GAP guidance, but it will remain voluntary, and no timetable for the update was announced.

“The failure of the past Administration to let FDA move toward mandatory and enforceable standards for produce has clearly created a void that others are trying to fill,” said Jim O’Hara, PSP director. “But FDA leadership is needed to determine sound science and make certain there is a level playing field,” he added.

In 1997, the Clinton Administration’s “Food Safety Initiative” identified the safety of fresh produce as a priority, and FDA followed up in 1998 with its guidance to minimize microbial contamination during the growing, harvesting and packing of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the wake of the 2007 E. coli outbreak associated with bagged spinach, FDA unsuccessfully sought permission from the Bush administration to develop mandatory produce safety standards.

The PSP analysis found the following criteria missing in the 1998 FDA guidance, but addressed in the other standards:

  • Microbial standards and sampling test protocols for irrigation water;
  • Consideration of prior use of growing land;
  • Microbial standards and sampling and testing protocol for manure;
  • Distance from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Differences among the standards discovered by PSP included the following:  

  • Three of the guides prohibit growing produce on flooded land without first taking steps to minimize contamination;
  • While all of the guides require sanitizing of equipment and tools, only one requires verification of the procures used;
  • Distances for toilets for field workers varies from general to specific;
  • Animal-control provisions vary, and one standard fails to address the issue at all.

The guidelines reviewed by PSP include the following:

  1. Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables issued by FDA in 1998.
  2. Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: adopted in 2003 by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  3. Food Safety Leadership Council On-Farm Produce Standards, finalized in 2007 by a group of large retailers/buyers.
  4. GLOBALGAP, a series of integrated standards, developed in 2007 and used by growers around the world.
  5. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Production and Harvest of Lettuce and Leafy Greens, initially issued in 2007 and followed by the growers who signed the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement.
  6. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain (Edition 1.0) and the Tomato Best Practices Manual. These two documents were incorporated into the Florida Tomato Rule, which implements legislation passed in the State of Florida in 2008.
More information can be found at PSP’s Web site:

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

Fabulous Food Plant: Paramount Citrus

Learn more about this fabulous food plant in Food Engineering's article, found here.


Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts


Food Engineering Magazine

Food engineering magazine 2014 april cover

2014 April

Catch a preview of the Powder and Bulk Show in this April 2014 edition of Food Engineering. Also, be sure to check out a coffee stick making a real stir and a major advancement in the the pet food industry.
Table Of Contents Subscribe


Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!


Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit to learn more.


FE recent tweets