Thirty-two of the 45 large operations the Idaho State Department of Agriculture inspected in the past year for federal Produce Safety Rule compliance had no violations, the agency reported.

The other sites took immediate corrective actions to bring them into full compliance before inspectors left.

Non-compliance areas this year included employee health and hygiene practices such as hand-washing, and building, equipment and tool issues such as pest control and cleanliness, ISDA Chief of Staff Pamm Juker said.

“On follow-up, all non-compliances had been corrected,” she said.

Voluntary on-farm readiness reviews, which ISDA conducts at no cost before an official inspection, have been the key to the high rate of Produce Safety Rule compliance so far, Juker said.

The agency in the past year inspected operations with more than $500,000 in annual produce sales based on a three-year average.

Over the same period, ISDA conducted 24 pre-inspection readiness reviews. The non-regulatory reviews cover what the rule requires, and how sites can align their practices and systems accordingly. Large-scale producers were active in shaping the review-related federal regulation.

“We want this next group coming up for inspection in 2020 to have the same opportunity for outreach, education and success in compliance,” Juker said.

Inspections planned for 2020 and ’21 involve those with sales from $250,000 to $500,000 and $25,000 to $250,000, respectively.

Sites with annual produce sales below $25,000 are exempt from the rule.

The rule took effect in 2016 and is part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. The rule applies to fruits and vegetables primarily consumed raw. It is significant in Idaho, which shares the large onion-growing region that includes southeastern Oregon and has a sizable fruit industry.

Juker said sites to be inspected in 2020 are being informed about the readiness reviews, detailed in a brochure by ISDA and University of Idaho Extension. Reviews can be scheduled immediately.

A readiness review can increase the likelihood a site will be found compliant when inspected, she said. “We would like to conduct at least 20 this winter.”

ISDA conducts inspections as allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and 2018 state legislation.

More than 40 inspections are expected in Idaho this year, Juker said. ISDA will contact the sites in spring to schedule them.

Inspectors issue a report stating if the site is in compliance.

“Or, if you are not, we write an observation and work with the producer to correct the non-compliance,” Juker said. “And we will do the follow-up inspections. We are taking the educate-while-we-regulate approach.”

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