U.S – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new online tool to help farmers understand the requirements of the proposed rule on carrying out agricultural water valuations.

If finalized, the rule will replace the microbial criteria and testing requirements for pre-harvest agricultural water for covered produce other than sprouts.

The Agricultural Water Assessment Builder v. 1.0 is an optional tool that asks users to answer questions and complete information specific to their farms.

According to the FDA, this information is not shared with the agency, nor is it saved. Users can save or print the information to their own computers.

This user-friendly tool incorporates information from the Agricultural Water Proposed Rule, the Final Qualitative Assessment of Risk to Public Health from On-Farm Contamination of Produce, and the 2015 Produce Safety Final Rule.

The tool is a component of the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, to utilize smarter tools and approaches for food safety.

The proposed rule requires farms to manage their agricultural water quality based on the results of a comprehensive systems assessment (“agricultural water assessment”) that is adaptable to the wide variety of water sources and uses and future scientific advancements.

It also entails an annual assessment by farms of their pre-harvest agricultural water to identify any conditions likely to introduce hazards into, or onto, covered produce or food contact surfaces.

According to the FDA, the assessment would consist of evaluating the water system, agricultural water use practices, crop characteristics, environmental conditions, potential impacts on source water by activities conducted on adjacent and nearby land.

In addition, the new rule will necessitate farms to speed up the implementation of mitigation measures for hazards related to certain activities associated with adjacent and nearby lands, to protect the quality of the water used on produce.

This is being included subsequent to several recent outbreak investigations on produce that revealed potential routes of contamination including activities and conditions, such as animal grazing and the presence of livestock and wildlife on land adjacent to, or near, produce farms or their water sources.

Further, the new rule will replace certain testing requirements for pre-harvest agricultural water with the agricultural water assessments identified. The proposed revisions are intended to address stakeholder concerns about complexity and practical implementation challenges while protecting public health.

It is one of the critical remaining pieces of working towards implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The FDA is currently collecting  feedback on the tool’s usability and functionality.

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