Lisa Baker

Lisa Baker, inspector with the MDA Food and Feed Safety Program, presenting an overview of the new Produce Safety Rule at a training in Waseca, Minn.

WASECA, Minn. – In response to serious foodborne disease outbreaks being traced back to produce farms, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed by Congress. The goal of the FSMA is to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks, not just respond to them. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR) went into effect in 2018 and inspections for the larger producers in the state began this past summer.

In an effort to better educate Minnesota’s produce farmers and prepare them for the PSR implementation, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has teamed up with the University of Minnesota to offer a day-long FSMA Produce Safety Rule Grower Training, which would include: overview of the rule, worker hygiene, agriculture water, manure and soil amendments, record keeping and more.

As a part of the PSR, some produce farmers need to attend a standardized training that meets the training requirements in the rule. If your farm is covered by the PSR, you must send one representative to one of the trainings. Not all produce farms will be subject to the FSMA and the PSR. The first step is to determine if an operation is covered.

“The three farm status categories are: excluded, eligible for exemption and fully covered,” said Lisa Baker, inspector with the MDA Food and Feed Safety Program, during one of the training meetings offered. “If you are excluded, the rule doesn't apply and you aren't subject to routine inspections – but it doesn't mean that you can provide unsafe food – there are other rules.”

The MDA developed a questionnaire for produce farmers to fill out and send in. It covers basic information about their farm, types of produce and volume of production. That information will allow them to determine a farms status category they fall under the rule.

“First of all, ask yourself, did your farm average more than $27,528 in produce sales per year over the last three year? If you say no to this, saying you grow and sell a gross value of produce less than $27,528, then you are excluded,” Baker said.

The determining factors for exclusion, exemption or covered, are arranged in a hierarchy. Once excluded by this question, a grower is done and does not need to look at further questions.

Excluded growers should still learn and even practice the guidelines laid out by the PSR. Just because a farm is excluded this year, does not mean it will be next year. Produce sales could increase or the rule could change. It is best to be prepared in case a farm ever becomes subject to the rule.

“Now, we are going to look at food sales. Food sales are a different definition. Does your farm average more than $550,551 in food sales per year over the past three years? If it's over $550,551, then you are fully covered,” she explained.

Food sales covers anything sold off the farm for food or feed consumption. This includes meat and egg sales for human consumption, and hay, corn or other feedstuff for livestock consumption. If the total value of those sales is greater than $550,551 and the farm’s produce sales is greater than $27,528, that farm is covered.

It is important to note, if a farm’s food and feed sales for row crop farming is greater than $550,551, but produce sales are less than the $27,528 threshold, that farm is not covered, but it is still excluded because produce sales do not meet the minimum requirement.

If the farm’s produce is more than $27,528 and food and feed sales is less than $550,551, the farmer needs to keep going through the questionnaire. They may still be fully covered or qualify for an exemption.

The third question is in regards to where the farmer sold their produce and food.

“Were more than half those sales to a qualified end user? Examples of qualified end users are on-farm sales, CSA (community supported agriculture) sales, farmers markets and selling directly to the consumer,” Baker said.

If yes, more than half a farmer’s sales went to a qualified end user, then that farm is eligible for exemption. If not, and over half the sales went to a distributor, wholesaler or to a food hub, then that farm is fully covered under the PSR.

“Restaurant and grocery stores are considered qualified end users if they are in the same state or Indian reservation or are not more than 275 miles away,” she said.

Sales can cross state lines and be considered a qualified end user if the store/restaurant is less than 275 miles from the farm.

“If you are eligible for exemption, there are a few things you're going to have to do,” she said. “You have to provide the name and complete address of the farm where the produce was grown on the label of the actual product or you have a sign at the point of purchase.”

The grower must also keep a record of all sales made to demonstrate continued qualification for exemption.

The compliance date for larger covered farms, greater than $250,000 in produce sales was in January 2019, and 2018 for farms larger than $500,000. If your farm is covered by the rule, the first step is to send a representative to a FSMA Produce Safety Rule Grower Training. There you will learn more about what the rule requires. Your farm will be subject to inspection, and you will learn more about that as well.

Produce growers who have not yet determined their status should reach out to the MDA or their local University of Minnesota Extension On-Farm Food Safety Program for more information and help establishing their status and compliance.

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