NJDA, Extension reps to help New Jersey growers through federal regulations
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (March 13, 2018) — Though the Food Safety Modernization Act became law in 2011, implementation of the legislation is still evolving as growers prepare to meet the regulations.
In New Jersey, Cumberland County agricultural Extension agent Dr. Wesley Kline and Mercer County ag Extension agent Meredith Melendez will be helping farmers around the state with on-farm readiness reviews this spring, summer and in coming years, to ensure that larger growers comply with regulations stipulated in the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress in 2011.
At the outset of his talk during the Vegetable Growers of New Jersey ’sannual convention and trade show, Kline stressed that FSMA is vast, complicated and still-evolving.
“Do we understand it all?” Kline said, “No, we don’t, and we continue to refer back to it.”
In New Jersey, all on-farm inspections will be conducted by employees of the Rutgers Ag Extension Service and the state department of agriculture.
“We stress with these trainings we do, the reviewers need to understand the rules. If farm reviewers don’t understand the rules they should not be going out on farms,” Kline said.
NJDA is working with the Extension to provide voluntary, free, on-farm readiness reviews so farmers can be prepared for actual inspections, they said.
“We decided we needed to look at the whole farm, not individual commodities, with a focus on farm activities, and not records and documentation,” Kline said. “We’ve developed some written materials and tested them in 2016 and 2017 with seven different states with growers and asked for feedback from growers,” Kline said, stressing the on-farm assessments are confidential.
“If we take any notes on the farm, those notes stay with the farm; there are no pictures taken because of the Freedom of Information Act, we don’t want to be responsible for someone getting information at the national level relating to commodity production and prices,” Kline said.
On-farm reviewers in New Jersey will look at “how the growers are doing what they’re doing and figure out what’s missing and what needs to be changed,” Kline said. “It’s personalized for that farm only. Hopefully, it will improve the quality of the inspections for the growers and for the inspectors.”
In New Jersey, “you’ll never have one person show up, here it will be two,” he said.
“Meredith Melendez and I coordinate all on-farm food safety work in New Jersey and we work with staffers from the department of agriculture on this.”
Melendez said farm owners can have anyone they wish with them on hand during the inspection, such as a farm manager or a lawyer.
“The structure for how this will work involves calling you up, determining your size, what crops you’re growing and what time would work best for a review,” Kline said. Once on-site, inspector-facilitators will ask a series of questions and do a walk-around with the farmer and his/her farm manager or other representative.
“We’ll ask a series of questions, get rid of anything that doesn’t apply to you, and you’ll know when we’re coming and concentrate on just a few areas,” Kline said. “If you have any packing operations we’ll start there so we can see some of the harvest and we don’t expect to see every practice on the farm. That doesn’t make sense and takes too much of your time. We think these reviews will take two to four hours, so we’re going to spend as little time there as possible.
“If it’s not in the Produce Safety Rule book, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “The inspectors should not be asking questions about other things.”
Kline said growers should be aware FSMA is a dynamic body of regulations and “there will be changes to the regulations down the road, it isn’t going to stop now.”
He stressed they are still in early stages of implementation in New Jersey, as in other states.
“If you’re just over $25,000 in sales, you don’t need to start complying until 2020. You will need to take the Produce Safety Alliance Course, which we provide. We probably wouldn’t do a walk-through at your farm until 2020,” Kline said.
“It’s also important to note that the water provisions do not take effect for farms with sales over $500,000 until 2022, and for farms from $250,000 to $500,000 in 2023, and for farms with sales of $25,000 to $250,000, they don’t take effect until 2024,” Kline said.
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