FMI: FMSA Exemptions Could Lead to Problems

ARLINGTON, Va. — Exemptions to the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rule on produce safety at the farm level could create problems for retailers and consumers, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

In a presentation yesterday at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ag Outlook Forum, FMI vice president of food safety programs Hilary Thesmar outlined the industry group’s concerns surrounding the list of exempted commodities and exemptions for small businesses and those selling to qualified end users.

The FSMA rule specifically names certain products, like kale, that are exempt from the new safety procedures because they are “rarely consumed raw.”

“Well a lot of them are consumed raw and a lot of them are juiced. So that’s a concern to us,” Thesmar told SN.

The rule also does not allow for any changes to this list once it goes into effect, which could be problematic down the road, Thesmar said.

“So we’d really like to see some type of way to move products on or off the list if there were to be food safety issues after the rule becomes final. Because I mean, 20 years ago, who would have thought that spinach would be a food safety problem?”

The Food and Drug Administration also would exempt certain small farms and those that sell a majority of their produce to consumers, restaurants or retailers from complying with parts of the proposed rule.

“And in looking at that, it puts the burden of a food safety program or ensuring food safety on the consumer, the restaurants and the retailers. And we would rather, the retailers would definitely rather have that level playing field and have everyone coming in having that baseline food safety program, rather than having our suppliers exempted from it,” said Thesmar.

“So it would just be simpler and much easier if everything were covered. And I think we’d have safer products,” she added.

Finally, FMI isn’t sure the new protocols regarding animal intrusion in fields go far enough in outlining specific steps to prevent contamination, Thesmar said.

“So for a grower, there’s no buffer zones. There’s no examples of types of animals that should be eliminated from the fields, that kind of thing. And that’s been a past problem in outbreaks. It’s very vague. So we’re just going to take a closer look at it and then include it in our comments [to the FDA]."

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