The requirements form part of the Produce Safety rule established by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) said delaying enforcement could lead to more than 730,000 additional cases of foodborne illness.
“We urge the FDA to withdraw its proposed rule, and instead to focus agency resources on providing additional training and support to producers and federal, state, and local public health officials, to ensure that the rule’s requirements be successfully implemented on the current timeline.”
Proposed and original dates
FDA proposed agricultural water compliance dates of January 26, 2022 for the largest farms.
Small and very small farms would have until January 26, 2023 and January 26, 2024.
FDA said possible extension is to ensure the water standards are feasible for all farmers while protecting public health.
“The agency has recognized a need for additional efforts to educate the produce industry and state regulatory partners on the new produce safety requirements, and will continue its focus on training, guidance development, and outreach…”
Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, told NASDA conference attendees that microbial quality standards for agricultural water were ‘too complicated, and in some cases too costly, to be effectively implemented’.
The initial Produce Safety rule allowed growers to phase in water quality and testing requirements between 2018 and 2022.
Sprouts remain subject to agricultural water requirements in the final rule and original compliance dates.
CSPI & CPS: Delay will contribute to illnesses
CSPI and CFS said delaying compliance requiring microbial testing of water for E. coli was ‘unnecessary’ and will contribute to illnesses and deaths from produce tainted by animal feces.
They added contaminated irrigation water is a major cause of foodborne illness outbreaks.
“Americans deserve to know that their produce wasn’t grown or rinsed in water contaminated with animal feces. Testing water that is used to grow and harvest produce for E. coli will save both lives and money,” said Sarah Sorscher, CSPI deputy director for legislative affairs.
The groups pointed to seven outbreaks linked to produce, including cantaloupes, apples, cucumbers, and papayas since the passage of FSMA in 2011 and said some might have been prevented if the water safety rule had been in effect.
Feedback on the proposed rule closed this week with 18,450 comments received in total.
FDA required produce growers to monitor quality of agricultural water by analysis of generic E. coli using EPA Method 1603 that involves membrane filtration and incubation on modified mTEC agar.
The agency has since listed other valid methods.