USA – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made a pivotal move in the produce safety sector with the publication of a final rule on agricultural water.

The revised requirements, born out of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, aim to bolster public health by refining the safety standards surrounding water used in produce cultivation.

Replacing certain pre-harvest agricultural water requirements outlined in the 2015 produce safety rule, the new mandate focuses on systems-based agricultural water assessments.

These assessments delve into various factors pivotal in gauging contamination risks associated with pre-harvest agricultural water.

From evaluating water systems to considering environmental conditions and adjacent land use impacts, the assessment seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of potential hazards.

In specific circumstances, the rule mandates testing pre-harvest agricultural water as part of the assessment process.

Farms are then required to swiftly implement effective mitigation measures based on assessment findings, with expedited mitigation for hazards related to activities associated with adjacent and nearby land use.

Compliance framework

To ensure adherence to the new regulations, farms must conduct annual assessments of their pre-harvest agricultural water, promptly identifying any conditions posing risks to produce or food contact surfaces.

Compliance timelines vary, allowing very small farms nearly three years after the final rule’s effective date to implement necessary changes, while larger operations have shorter windows.

Despite years in the making, the FDA emphasizes a collaborative approach, working closely with state partners, industry stakeholders, and regulatory bodies to facilitate compliance.

The agency’s commitment extends beyond enforcement, emphasizing education alongside regulation.

Alongside the final rule, the FDA has released comprehensive resources, including fact sheets and an updated Agriculture Water Assessment Builder. The agency first launched the Water Assessment Builder in 2022 to help farmers understand the proposed rule’s requirements on carrying out agricultural water valuations.

While the final rule marks a significant stride towards safer produce, it is important to note its limitations.

The rule specifically addresses pre-harvest water used for irrigation, leaving harvest and post-harvest water activities outside its scope. Notably, water used in the production of sprouts falls under a separate regulatory framework.

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