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FDA Releases New Food Safety Rules for Produce to Reduce Foodborne Illnesses and Contamination

Legal News GavelThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released its final version of a new set of rules that will change the way food safety must be addressed in produce production. Known as the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Picking, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, the agency began working on the rules back in January 2013.

Overall, the final set of rules establishes six new parameters designed to reduce the risk of negative health effects and foodborne illnesses that can occur when produce is contaminated or contains biological hazards. The six areas of focus are:

  • Water used in agriculture,
  • Biological soil amendments,
  • Domesticated and wild animals,
  • Sprouts,
  • Worker training through health and hygiene, and
  • Equipment, tools, and buildings.

The rule provides two standards for microbial agricultural water, both designed to reduce the potential for fecal coliform contamination in food. The standards use E. coli, a common yet harmful bacteria found in produce, as the indicator.

For biological soil amendments, which are animal-derived products applied to soil to enhance fertility and crop performance, the amendments must be conveyed, handled, and stored in a method and place that ensures they do not become a source of contamination for produce falling under the regulation’s scope. Soil amendments must also be kept away from food-contact surfaces, spaces used for specified activities, and water distribution mechanisms and sources.

Although the proposed rule initially included a waiting period between the grazing of animals and harvesting, the FDA removed that requirement in the final version of the Produce Safety Rule. The FDA has encouraged farms to adopt waiting periods on a voluntary basis, particularly when there exists a reasonable chance that grazing domesticated animals will result in produce becoming contaminated.

Sprouts have been identified as one of the most common culprits of foodborne illness outbreaks, leading the FDA to provide specific standards that apply to this crop. The rules provide specific instructions for the handling of seeds and beans necessary to grow the vegetable, in addition to enhanced testing requirements for irrigation water used to grow sprouts or any areas used to hold them. Two of the most common bacteria associated with sprouts are Listeria and L. monocytogenes, which can both cause severe illness and even death.

For worker hygiene, the rule imposes heightened safety and training requirements on farms to ensure that workers understand how contamination can occur and spread. Specific practices are also imposed under the new rule, including the removal of hand jewelry, extensive hand washing, and a prohibition against eating, chewing gum, or smoking in areas designated for produce-related activities.

Finally, the new rules provide specific practices for the storing and maintenance of tools and equipment used in produce production. Although farms are permitted to store equipment outside, they must inspect, clean, and thoroughly maintain all surfaces that may come into contact with food and use sanitation when required.

If you or someone you love has suffered severe injuries or lost their life as a result of foodborne illness, you may be entitled to compensation. Bacteria and diseases associated with food can be severe and devastating, especially for young children or the elderly, whose immune systems may not be strong enough to thwart a strong infection. At Moll Law Group, our experienced food safety lawyers know what it takes to bring a successful action against the parties responsible. Based in Chicago, we proudly serve clients across the nation, including in California, New York, and Florida. Call us now at 312-462-1700 or contact us online for your free consultation.

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