Produce Safety Rule Leaves Lingering Questions

Introduced nearly a year after it was first due, a new FSMA safety proposal regulating produce has already led to perhaps as many questions as answers.

Some experts are flummoxed by the fact that traceability isn’t addressed in more detail. “Most people were expecting end-to-end traceability requirements and documentation,” said Peter Mehring, CEO of Intelleflex, which provides tracking and monitoring solutions throughout the food chain. “That’s not in there nearly as much as we thought there would be. Everyone I spoke to had the same reaction: this seems like a first step, not the full set of requirements. I would be surprised if there weren’t another step this year or next year because something seems to be lacking.”

“I think there are likely to be complaints about the fact that the rule is so qualitative,” said Robert Buchanan, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland. “There’s a lot of ‘You have to do this’ and ‘It needs to meet this,’ as opposed to specific requirements for farms. To some extent, I think they’re relying on people who buy products from these farms. It gets around having a huge regulatory burden, but it isn’t as definitive.”

Dr. Buchanan predicted a deluge of public comments on the rule. “If the FDA can actually get through all the comments they’ll receive in a reasonable amount of time, I’ll be surprised,” he said. “I have a feeling they’ll be doing a lot of work after the comment period.”

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