Food safety, especially in producing fruits and vegetables, has been a prime-time issue in the last five years, thanks to a few high-profile recalls, including spinach and peppers. The mainstream media put these stories at the top of the queue for the nightly news, with an endless stream of “expert” sound bites and man-on-the-street comments. However, as with most topics in this 24-hour news cycle world, each one was quickly replaced by a celebrity story, and watchers were left with questions, fears and few answers. The unfortunate result: a terrified public that only saw the horror stories and hand-wringing but not the overwhelming successes of an engaged, professional industry. The industry as a whole has made huge strides to repair its image, and while efforts have been largely successful, there is always work to be done. A significant part of that work has taken place in the halls of Congress in the last few years with legislative wrangling over a food safety bill.
Regardless of where you are in the food chain – grower, processor, retailer – the upcoming Food Modernization Act will undoubtedly have some impact on how you do business. For many growers, this isn’t necessarily a massive change in operating policy as much as an affirmation of what this industry already does so well: producing the safest, most abundant food supply in the world. For every recall, there are a thousand smoothly running operations.
I can’t imagine there is anyone reading this that doesn’t take food safety seriously already. Your livelihood depends on providing your consumers with high-quality, safe fruits, nuts and vegetables. How far would your business go if you routinely made your paying customers sick? Not far, of course.
It’s fair to say that you’re probably in compliance with 99.9 percent of any new regulations that will come down the line. However, for those of you with farmstands, farmers’ market presences, retail operations and similar public spaces, this new bill could mean even more scrutiny and some differences in reporting and record-keeping. While these should be minor changes, you need to be on the ball and prepared to accommodate them – heck, even take advantage of them, if possible.
Many people and organizations have worked to minimize the bill’s negative consequences on agriculture – especially small farm operations, which are least capable of bearing the burden of onerous layers of regulation. Groups like United Fresh Produce Association and National Farmers Union are to be commended for their tireless efforts to ensure that the bill balances both food safety and operational concerns for growers.
A host of new food safety requirements are on the horizon, and while the bill has yet to be funded and is unlikely to see full implementation until 2014, the fact is, you need to be as informed as possible on the bill’s implications within your operation. It’s also essential that you take part in the rule making and comment period that’s coming. Be your own advocate and be aware of how this will impact your bottom line. Ensure that standards are based on science and common sense, instead of emotion and hyperbole.
To get a full picture of what’s on the horizon, turn to our cover story on page A8. Let us know what you think of the bill and how it will affect your operation. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org; we’d love to hear your thoughts.