February 21, 2018


Mark Zotti, Bureau of Regulatory Services

A lot of attention has been given to the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed by the United States Congress in 2011—for good reason.  One of FSMA’s primary objectives is to shift the food safety system activities from a reactive to a preventative system.  One example of this shift will affect some of the state’s produce farms. 

As of Friday, January 26, 2018, fruit and vegetable growers with food sales over $500,000 are subject to rules for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables under FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule (PSR).  The PSR only covers produce that is commonly consumed raw and sold for human consumption.  Other farm products may be subject to other rules under FSMA including Preventative Controls for Human Food, Preventative Controls for Animal Food, and the Sanitary Transportation Rule. 

These new requirements have caused quite a stir. The Department of Agriculture (DoAg) has assumed an active role in addressing these concerns and working to prepare farms for the required compliance dates.  DoAg representatives have been busy attending meetings, leading discussions, answering questions, and accepting feedback around the state regarding FSMA and specifically the PSR. 

DoAg maintains the belief that regulation through education is the best way to reduce the risk for microbial contamination.  No farm wants anyone to get sick. Educating farms of the best practices will achieve FSMA’s goal of having a food safety system that focuses on prevention.

The PSR is likely one of the largest challenges facing fruit and vegetable growers in a very long time. At the same time, it presents opportunities for improved market access.  It is a game changer and DoAg is committed to sharing what the agency knows with the industry to ensure that Connecticut farmers are educated and prepared for complying with the new requirements. 

DoAg’s engagement isn’t limited to activities within the state.  DoAg is in constant communication with other state departments of agriculture throughout the Northeast and nationwide in the development of produce safety programs that align with the PSR. 

What’s next?  This past January was the first of the compliance dates.  Over the next three years, farms whose sales of fruits and vegetables covered by the federal rule exceed $25,000 may be subject to some provisions of the PSR. Exemptions allow farms selling the majority of their produce to “qualified end users” to not be subject to inspections. 

At a glance, the main components of the PSR are water quality, biological soil amendments, sprouts, domestic and wild animals, worker health and hygiene, and equipment tools and buildings.  It is important to note that the PSR does not cover all produce.  Certain crops are not covered by the rule because they are identified as rarely consumed raw. 

With the enactment of Public Act No. 17-208 the Connecticut legislature and Governor Malloy designated DoAg as the state agency responsible for enforcing the PSR. This legislation provides DoAg with the statutory authority needed to adopt and enforce the federal rule and by doing so DoAg has entered into a multi-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

The cooperative agreement with FDA provides funding for activities and resources needed to educate the state’s produce industry and develop a state-specific produce safety program that aligns with the federal rule.  It has allowed DoAg to train personnel, hire additional staff, and develop education/outreach materials. More importantly, it allows DoAg to focus on developing a state produce safety program that will best serve Connecticut’s produce industry.

A major portion of the development of a produce safety program is establishment of education, outreach, and technical assistance programs for industry stakeholders.  DoAg finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Connecticut’s Cooperative Extension Service to provide education, outreach, and technical assistance to the state’s produce industry regarding the PSR. 

The PSR requires covered farms to participate in the Produce Safety Alliance Growers Training Course.  Interested farms can visit for more information on the course offerings.  Under the MOU, UConn will perform a farm inventory on the state’s fruit and vegetable growers.  Information gathered regarding produce safety activities will be shared with industry stakeholders to get a better understanding of the composition of the produce industry in Connecticut. 

Beginning this summer, DoAg will offer On-Farm Readiness Reviews (OFRR) for farms participating in the aforementioned grower training course.  This will consist of a walk through with DoAg staff and/or UConn staff.  During this visit, produce safety practices will be reviewed and suggestions will be made for any observation that does not meet the requirements of the PSR.  This visit is intended to prepare participating farms for future regulatory inspection required by the PSR.

The development of a state produce safety program is an extraordinary challenge.  Recent regional produce safety meetings with other states have included discussions regarding market access for the small farmer.  Small farms not subject to the PSR, or farms exempted from the PSR, may have difficulty selling products to some customers due to limited access to a produce safety compliance program. 

Some customers require food safety compliance verification.  This began with third party audits (GAP audits) and may shift to include verification of the PSR compliance.  DoAg has acknowledged this potential issue and Public Act No.17-208 allows DoAg to “conduct an inspection of a produce farm that is not subject to the requirements of the federal act upon request of the owner or operator of such produce farm”. This provision will allow DoAg to develop an all-inclusive produce safety program that will benefit the entire industry—large and small growers. 

Growing into FSMA will be no easy task.  DoAg is excited for the opportunity to lead in keeping Connecticut produce safe for consumers and to serve the produce industry with an “educate before and while we regulate” philosophy. Creating a produce safety program will allow the Connecticut produce industry to remain competitive at local, regional, and national levels.  DoAg continues to encourage farms and all industry stakeholders to participate in the training programs being offered and to take advantage of the resources currently available.