A high-level FDA official, along with several of the agency’s food safety experts, will explain the FDA’s new produce rule Dec. 1 during a meeting in Portland.
The meeting is being organized by the Idaho, Oregon and Washington agriculture departments and is meant to shed some light on the agency’s produce rule as well as its preventive controls for human food rule.
Ag department officials said they expect a lot of questions about the produce safety rule, which was released Nov. 13 and affects any farmer who grows fruits or vegetables that can be eaten raw.
Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, will attend the meeting, which is expected to attract a sizable number of farmers, food processors and farm group representatives.
“It’s one of those rules that is of concern to anyone involved in agriculture and we are anticipating there will be a good turnout,” said Washington State Department of Agriculture Communications Director Hector Castro.
Questions about the produce rule will likely focus on its water quality testing provisions, said Claudia Coles, policy adviser of the WSDA’s food safety division.
“The water testing is ... the big issue,” she said. “There are going to be questions about (that).”
The meeting will be held at the Portland Airport Sheraton Hotel and registration is not required.
An overview of the produce safety rule will take place from 9-11:30 a.m. and an overview of the preventive controls for human food rule will be from 1-2:45 p.m. An additional question-and-answer period will follow.
Representatives of the Idaho-Oregon onion industry will attend the meeting and their main questions will center on the agricultural water testing required by the produce rule, said Grant Kitamura, chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee’s promotion committee.
“The water testing is our main concern,” he said. “We’ll be looking for clarification on a few things at the meeting.”
The bulb onions grown in Southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon are left in the field to cure and Oregon State University field trials have shown bacteria dies off the onions rapidly during the curing process.
OSU researchers in Ontario pumped irrigation water filled with mega amounts of bacteria onto onion fields but no bacteria was detected on the onions after curing.
Onion growers still hope to be exempted from the water testing requirements and will be looking for some guidance from FDA on that issue, Kitamura said.
“How necessary is water testing if you’ve proven that curing eliminates any bacteria?” he said. “It’s going to be very cumbersome and expensive (and) we’re trying not to have to do the water testing.”
Coles said she also expects questions about provisions in the rules that require foreign food imports to meet the same food safety requirements.
People are asking, “Are you truly going to apply the rule to the foreign food coming into this country?” she said.