By Tucker Diego, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets
March 1, 2023 | Montpelier, VT - Important food safety requirements recently came into effect in January for produce farms subject to the Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule. The requirements apply to water used during harvest and in post-harvest activities when the water is intended to or likely to come into direct contact with produce or food contact surfaces. Examples include water used to wash produce, ice used to cool produce, and water used for cleaning food contact surfaces and for handwashing.
Not all produce farms are required to comply immediately. Compliance dates are tiered by farm size. Farms with annual produce sales above $500,000 were required to comply by January 26, 2023. Farms with sales between $250,000 and $500,000 must comply by January 26, 2024, and farms with sales between $25,000 and $250,000 by January 26, 2025.
Key harvest and post-harvest water requirements include:
- Water must be safe and of adequate sanitary quality for its intended use.
- Water systems must be inspected at least once annually at the beginning of the growing season and must be adequately maintained.
- Water must meet a microbial standard of no detectable generic E. coli bacteria per 100ml sample and must not be from an untreated surface water source.
- Each water source must be tested four times in the first year, then tested at least once in subsequent years. If a water source fails the microbial standard, four new tests must be taken.
- A farm does not need to test water from a municipal water source, but the farm must keep documentation showing the water meets microbial standards.
- If a farm treats their water, they must use an effective treatment method, deliver the treated water in a safe and adequate manner, and monitor treatment to ensure the water is consistently safe and of adequate sanitary quality.
- If water fails to meet the microbial standards or if it is not safe or of adequate sanitary quality, a farm must immediately discontinue using the water and either:
- Reinspect the water system, identify potential sources of contamination, make necessary changes, and verify that those changes were effective before resuming use of the water;
- Or, treat the water according to the treatment standards.
- Farms must take the following additional measures when using water during harvest, packing, and holding activities on produce:
- Manage the water to ensure it is safe and of adequate sanitary quality, including by establish water change schedules for recirculated or batch water.
- Visually monitor the quality of water for buildup of organic material.
- Maintain and monitor the temperature of water to minimize the potential for infiltration.
- Farms must keep the following records:
- Findings of annual water system inspections.
- Water test results or certificates from a municipal water supply.
- Information relied on to show water treatment methods are adequate.
- Results of water treatment monitoring.
- Documentation of corrective actions taken if water fails to meet microbial standards.
Harvest and post-harvest water requirements other than for sprouts are found in Subpart E (Agricultural Water) of the Produce Safety Rule.
An educational regulatory approach will be taken during a farm’s next inspection to assist farms in understanding these requirements. Farms may contact the Agency’s produce safety team for additional support at email@example.com.
Agricultural water requirements relating to pre-harvest water uses, such as for irrigation and crop spraying, remain under enforcement discretion by the FDA until further notice.
- FDA Factsheet: Requirements for Harvest and Post-Harvest Agricultural Water in Subpart E for Covered Produce Other than Sprouts
- FSMA Produce Safety Rule: Subpart E- Agricultural water
- NECAFS Clearinghouse: National Water Quality Testing Labs Map
For more information, please contact Tucker Diego at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 802-622-4412.