The California Department of Food and Agriculture is announcing the creation of a new unit within its Inspection Services Division called the Produce Safety Program. This unit has been created to assist California produce farms in understanding the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The unit will be responsible for conducting on-farm inspections on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will begin in 2019 to verify compliance with the Produce Safety Rule, which became effective January 26, 2018 for produce farms designated as “large” – defined as those with $500,000 or more in annual sales. Smaller farms will be phased in over the next few years.
“It’s estimated some 20,000 California farms will fall under this new regulation,” explained California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “This will be a big job and we will all need to work cooperatively to achieve our vision of 100 percent compliance.”
CDFA’s plan is to first educate farmers about the Produce Safety Rule and then regulate farms by verifying their compliance with it by keeping required records on adherence to best practices and providing ongoing health and hygiene training for workers, among other provisions. CDFA is launching an educational program and is asking produce associations to join-in to help spread the word.
To administer the program, inspectors employed by CDFA are required to be credentialed by the FDA and have specialized training and education to conduct authorized routine inspections on behalf of the federal agency.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Public Health will continue to serve in its role to ensure the safety of California’s food supply. If a CDFA Produce Safety Program inspector believes there is a significant and imminent threat to public health on a produce farm, he or she will inform CDPH of the situation for evaluation and potential regulatory action.
Under the Produce Safety Rule, every produce farm must have at least one employee on staff who has completed an FDA-recognized grower training course. CDFA is offering training courses in both English and Spanish at several locations throughout the state. Produce farmers who do not yet have an employee who has completed the training should do so immediately.
“CDFA will also be offering a series of non-regulatory On-Farm Readiness Reviews (OFRR),” said Natalie Krout-Greenberg, Director of CDFA’s Inspection Services Division. “These are designed to give produce farmers a better understanding of what they can expect from a routine Produce Safety Program inspection. Information on how to schedule an OFRR will be available very soon.”
CDFA’s Produce Safety Program is developing an informational website that will be accessible to all produce farmers and the public next month. The website will be located at www.cdfa.ca.gov/prducesafety/