June 23, 2022

FDA Proposes Agricultural Water Safety Rule For Use on Produce

There have been multiple E. coli outbreaks linked to fresh produce, especially leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, in the past few years. In several of those outbreaks, agricultural water has been implicated as the source of that pathogen. So the FDA has proposed a new agricultural water safety rule for use on produce.

FDA Proposes Agricultural Water Safety Rule For Use on Produce

The rule would require farms to conduct comprehensive assessments that will help them identify and mitigate hazards in water that is used to grow produce. This is the latest step in the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011. This proposed rule will replace some of the existing requirements for agricultural water in the Produce Safety Rule.

Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response said in a statement, “There have been far too many foodborne illness outbreaks possibly linked to pre-harvest agricultural water in recent years, including water coming from lands nearby produce farms. As a federal government agency charged with protecting public health, the FDA is committed to implementing effective modern, science-based measures designed to prevent these outbreaks from occurring in the future.

“The proposed rule is the latest action taken by the FDA to continue working towards implementation of key provisions of FSMA. If finalized, we’re confident this proposal would result in fewer outbreaks in the U.S. related to produce, protecting public health and saving lives. This proposed rule is a monumental step towards further improving the safety of the fruits and vegetables Americans serve their families every day, and the FDA looks forward to engaging with stakeholders on the proposed changes.”

The rule would require farms to manage their agricultural water quality based on results of a comprehensive systems assessment.  An annual assessment by farms of their pre-harvest agricultural water to identify any conditions that could introduce hazards into or onto covered produce or food contact surfaces would be required.

In addition, farms must implement expedited mitigation measures for hazards relating to certain activities associated with adjacent and nearby lands. Animal grazing and livestock and wildlife on land near produce has been an issue in several of the recent outbreaks.

The FDA will continue to work closely with stakeholders and state and tribal partners to provide training, technical assistance, education, and outreach. Two virtual public meetings to discuss this proposal and to receive feedback will be held and will be announced in a Federal Register notice.

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