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Anyone who attended a Produce Safety Rule grower training this past winter might remember hearing about the proposed rule that will change the agricultural water regulations that apply to covered farms. For anyone who has not heard yet, a recent blog post goes into detail about what the Proposed Rule changes will entail. In a nutshell, if finalized, the proposed rule will require farms to conduct systems-based agricultural water assessments to determine and guide appropriate measures to minimize potential risks associated with pre-harvest agricultural water.
On March 21, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new online Agricultural Water Assessment Builder to help farms understand the proposed requirements for an agricultural water assessment in the Agricultural Water Proposed Rule. Use of the tool is optional, but designed to walk growers through the processes they would need to take to comply with the Proposed Rule.
The tool prompts users to answer questions and fill in information specific to their unique conditions. Information entered into the tool is not shared with the FDA and will not be saved. However, users have the opportunity to save or print the information they provide to their local computer. The ability to save and print responses is a useful feature for operations that might be required to document and review the assessment, outcomes, and any corrective or mitigation measures taken.
The questions in FDA's tool guide growers through the following elements of a pre-harvest agricultural water assessment in an interactive format:
Agricultural Water System Components
Animal Impacts and Activities
Other Water Users
Other Potential Sources of Hazards
Agricultural Water Use Practices
Other Relevant Factors
Outcomes and Measures
This tool will be of particular interest for farm operations that use groundwater or surface water sources without regular testing to verify the water meets the microbial quality criterion and testing requirements, such as concentrations of generic E. Coli and other human pathogens.
Operations that know they will need to begin annual water system inspections, or want to know more about how to go about an inspection, can check out University of Maryland Plant Science and Landscape Architecture’s website, with links to videos, https://psla.umd.edu/extension/produce-safety/water.
Another resource for growers is the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) On-Farm Readiness Review (OFRR) program. The OFRRs are free and confidential and meant to help farmers better understand and meet the requirements of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule. The OFRRs are not regulatory – the purpose is to provide education and technical assistance - including guidance on water risk assessments - to farmers who are required to comply with the Produce Safety Rule. Farms can request an OFRR online by filling out the form and emailing email@example.com, or by contacting the Food Quality Assurance office at 410-841-5769.
The FDA recognizes the online tool is only the first version and welcomes feedback on v1.0 of this optional tool, such as suggestions related to the tool’s functionality and usability. Feedback on the tool can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Funding for this series of work described in this article is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award U2FFD007444 totaling $523,497 with 100 percent funded by FDA]/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.