As part of an ongoing effort to make the oversight of food safety stronger and more efficient, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and U.S Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a new collaborative effort to streamline produce safety requirements for farmers by aligning the USDA Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices Audit Program (USDA H-GAP) with the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA’s) Produce Safety Rule. This effort is an important step toward ensuring that produce safety standards overall are better understood and met by produce farmers and follows the signing of a formal agreement earlier this year that outlined plans to increase interagency coordination regarding produce safety, inspections of dual jurisdiction facilities and biotechnology activities.
A key compliance date for produce arrived in January 2018 for large farms. However, the FDA had previously announced that inspections to assess compliance with the Produce Safety Rule for produce other than sprouts would not begin until Spring 2019. Key compliance dates for small and very small farms begin in January 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Sprout operations have been required to be in compliance with the Produce Safety Rule since January 2017 for the largest operations because sprouts have a unique vulnerability to contamination.
While farmers prepare for regulatory inspections that assess compliance with the Produce Safety Rule, they also face requirements from most produce buyers to meet market access standards as a condition of sale. USDA H-GAP audits are a tool that farms can use to demonstrate to buyers that they are implementing effective food safety standards that are now aligned with the Produce Safety Rule. However, they are not a substitute for regulatory inspections conducted to ensure compliance with the rule.
While a lot of work has gone into the alignment project, the work does not end. FDA and USDA are committed to continuing to work together to ensure that the requirements and expectations of the USDA H-GAPs program remain aligned with FDA’s Produce Safety Rule.