ONTARIO, Ore. — Idaho State Department of Agriculture efforts to administer the new federal Produce Safety Rule will work well if the agency sets clear expectations, makes the system practical for multi-state growers and can easily adapt to future changes in federal standards.
Those sentiments emerged as clear themes at an ISDA-hosted meeting May 15 in Ontario, Ore., part of a key produce-growing region that includes neighboring communities in southwest Idaho. ISDA is developing administrative rules tied to a new Idaho law.
“It just brings a little more awareness about what we have got to do with our growers on being up to par on this subject,” said Jeff Robins, operations manager with Champion Produce, a packing shed in Parma, Idaho. Champion already has a food-safety program.
“We’ve got improvements to be made,” said Jackie Williams, owner of Williams Fruit Ranch in Emmett, Idaho. For example, the orchard will evaluate its apple juicing, which is contracted to a third party.
Produce-industry representatives said ISDA farm inspections could cause problems where growers are based in Idaho but have fields in Oregon.
ISDA said the standards are the same no matter which agency administers the rule and inspects farms, and that an Idaho-Oregon operator would not need separate inspections.
The Produce Safety Rule establishes science-based minimum standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce generally consumed raw. It currently applies to hops and wine grapes as well.
In a law passed March 20 to take effect July 1, the Idaho Legislature authorized ISDA to administer and enforce the federal rule and conduct on-farm inspections. The department has said the state’s agriculture industry requested this due largely to existing relationships with ISDA. Federal grants are covering the effort so far.
At the May 15 meeting, industry representatives speculated about how packing sheds would be covered, and expressed concern about the rule’s water-quality standards changing unexpectedly.
ISDA Chief of Staff Pamm Juker said the rule covers packing sheds that share ownership with a farm. As for water quality, any proposed change would involve its own comment period and compliance deadlines.
ISDA’s draft administrative rule includes procedures by which the state could request the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant a variance, such as when a local growing condition interferes with standard compliance. A variance would be granted only to a grower who scientifically demonstrates safety would not be reduced and produce would not be adulterated, Juker said.
The Produce Safety Rule is in effect for large farms. Mid-sized farms must comply by next Jan. 28. Small farms have until January 2020, but those averaging less than $25,000 in annual revenue for three years are exempt.
ISDA is taking comments on proposed administrative rules until May 31. Meetings are scheduled at 10 a.m. Pacific time on May 22 at Fairfield Inn and Suites, Moscow, and at 10 a.m. May 29 at Best Western Plus Burley Inn, Burley.