FDA implements new water testing rule for produce farms to ensure safety

May 08, 2024

By Farms.com

The FDA has announced a new rule requiring produce farms to test their water for potential contamination, a measure designed to prevent harmful bacteria from entering the food supply. This rule, published on May 6, introduces a systems-based approach to pre-harvest water assessments, replacing the 2015 water quality criteria and testing requirements.

This change has been eagerly anticipated by the agricultural and public health communities for over a decade, amidst rising rates of foodborne illnesses and recalls. Previously, farms did not have to test water for pathogens, despite contaminated water being a significant source of large-scale outbreaks, such as the 2018 E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from Yuma County.

Under the new rule, produce farmers must conduct annual water assessments, examining factors such as their water system, usage practices, crop types, environmental conditions, and impacts from nearby land. Based on these assessments, farmers are required to implement timely mitigation steps if contamination risks are found. The rule applies to all produce farmers except those growing sprouts.

The revised rule also updates the 2015 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final rule on produce safety. Initially delayed in 2018, the new water testing requirements have staggered compliance dates - very small farms have until April 2027, small farms until April 2026, and other farms until April 2025.

While responses to the new rule vary, supporters appreciate its risk-based, flexible, and holistic approach compared to the 2015 standards. Critics argue that the rule is too complex and difficult to enforce. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has endorsed the rule, noting its enhanced understanding of the relationship between risk prevention and public health.

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