The Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Agriculture, hosted FDA officials earlier this month for a tour of local state farm and packinghouse visits designed to highlight the industry and inform policymakers of the challenges facing the produce supply chain in light of the new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

“These tours are part of PMA’s ongoing work to connect the policymakers who regulate our industry with fruit and vegetable producers’ realities and experiences, to encourage them to develop real-world workable solutions to our industry’s unique food safety needs,” says PMA President Cathy Burns.

FDA finalized the produce safety rule last year, with the earliest compliance dates beginning one year after the final rule was published. The rule establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.

Tour stops included Coastal Growers in Laurel, DE, a watermelon producer, and Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, DE, which produces a variety of fruits and vegetables including apples, berries and corn on 2,000 acres. Growers and regulators discussed current produce safety practices, FSMA implementation and business challenges facing local fruit and vegetable producers. According to PMA, a key message delivered by those producers was that they know food safety begins on the farm, and they take seriously their role to provide wholesome, safe produce to consumers because their families and businesses depend on it.

Among the FDA officials was new Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff. He was accompanied by senior officials from FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) including: Samir Assar, produce safety division director; Ted Elkin, CFSAN deputy director for regulatory affairs; and Rebecca Buckner, interim director for FSMA operations. Leanne Skelton, U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service liaison to FDA, also participated in the tour.

“This is a critically important time for the produce industry to engage regulators, as FSMA implementation and compliance dates approach,” says Jim Gorny, PMA vice president of food safety and technology. “We are ramping up our communications to encourage FDA to develop and implement practical FSMA compliance policies that will enhance produce safety, increase consumer confidence and avoid those policies from becoming business roadblocks.”