What’s the FSMA Produce Safety Rule (And Who is Responsible to Comply)?

In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) signed into law the most sweeping food safety reforms since the 1970s. Last November, the Rule for Produce Safety was finalized, and the compliance clock started ticking.

So who is responsible to comply with the Produce Safety Final Rule? The farms, the farms, the farms.

Restaurants that source large amounts of fresh produce should understand the FSMA rules that will soon be affecting many, if not all, of their produce suppliers.

What is the Produce Safety rule?

The Produce Safety Final Rule governs regulations for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce. It addresses several major areas of the agricultural production process:

Water: The water requirement states that any water that touches harvested food, sprouts, or workers’ hands can’t have any detectable levels of E. coli. The allowable level is slightly higher for water directly applied to growing produce, but not much. There are a lot of ways farms must measure and test their water supplies to keep track of these levels, and if they don’t meet them, immediate action must be taken.


Soil: Soil is enriched by manure and compost, but not if that manure is too fresh. The soil requirement specifies a 120-day interval before raw manure is applied to crops that grow in the soil and 90 days for crops that grow above soil. It also covers best composting practices to prevent dangerous levels of E. coli, salmonella, fecal coliforms, and Listeria monocytogenes.


Sprouts: Sprouts are at a vulnerable stage for contamination. They need special care and nutrients to grow, which can expose them to more dangerous microbial levels. The FDA takes sprout operations seriously and requires multi-stage testing of water and environmental samples. Compliance timelines are shorter and stricter for sprouts.


Animals: Animals (both domesticated and wild) are part and parcel of the farming process. When it comes to animals in the fields, farmers are expected to “take all measures reasonably necessary to identify and not harvest produce that is likely to be contaminated.” The FDA encourages waiting periods between grazing and harvest, and it does NOT encourage farmers to “exclude animals from outdoor growing areas, destroy animal habitat, or clear borders around growing or drainage areas.”


Workers: Farm workers who handle produce and food-contact surfaces must be trained in and follow certain hygienic guidelines. Thorough handwashing after using the bathroom and keeping sick workers away from the food just about covers this requirement--though that’s probably not as simple as it sounds.


Equipment: Equipment (and tools, and buildings) must be regularly inspected and cleaned to keep contamination away from food. This includes greenhouses and germination chambers, as well as toilets and handwashing facilities. Appropriate storage, maintenance, and cleaning of equipment and tools all fall into this category of regulation.

Who must comply?

Different sizes of farms have different lengths of time to comply. The largest farms have one year from the date the rule was finalized (November, 2015). That means many will need to be in full compliance this Fall. Small and very small businesses can take longer to get into compliance.

Certain exemptions and variances apply, and farms that qualify may be subject to less stringent versions of the rule.

Want more info?

More information is available in the Produce Safety Standards on the FSMA main page. Information for this post was taken primarily from the Produce Safety Rule fact sheet, which lists compliance deadlines for the various types and sizes of farming operations.

FSMA is all about prevention, which hasn’t been a focus in the past. Regardless of how largely produce factors into your restaurant or distribution supply chain, it’s important to know about all the final rules that will soon be affecting the food industry. Because at the end of the day, a recall’s no fun for anyone.


Post written by Heather Brown, a contributor at Food Industry Executive. Food Industry Executive is a resource for food processing and manufacturing professionals.