WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. – Clemson University experts are ready to help South Carolina farmers and food processing facilities meet requirements brought about by the biggest change in food safety laws in 80 years.

Peach trees in bloom in the spring at the Clemson University Musser Fruit Research Farm.

The Produce Safety Rule is one component of the Food Safety Modernization Act and applies to produce, such as peaches, that may be consumed raw by humans. It affects farmers in South Carolina who grow fresh produce that is typically consumed without cooking first.
Image Credit: Clemson University

This legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) comes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and was signed into law on Jan. 4, 2011. The earliest compliance dates for some farms is set to begin this November.

Clemson University is providing FDA-approved training for anyone interested in becoming certified Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals (PCQI). The training is called Preventive Controls for Human Food Regulation (PCHF) and will be offered from 8:30 a.m.to 5 p.m., Feb. 15-17, in the Phillips Market Center, 117 Ballard Court Highway, West Columbia, S.C. 29172.

“The Food Safety Modernization Act is an update of federal laws for food safety,” said Julie Northcutt, professor and Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service Program team leader for Food Safety and Nutrition. “Prior to the passage of this act, we were operating under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. This is the biggest overhaul of our food safety system in about 80 years.”

The Produce Safety Rule is one component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and applies to produce that may be consumed raw by humans. It affects farmers in South Carolina who grow peaches, melons, berries, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, spinach and other fresh produce. Clemson experts are working with members of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to design plans to assist South Carolina farmers with the new law, including hiring new people at both institutions.

“This Rule establishes standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on farms,” said Scott Whiteside, professor and Extension specialist. “This law is designed to shift the focus from responding to foodborne illness outbreaks to preventing foodborne illness outbreaks. We will be working with members of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to assist our farmers in becoming compliant with this new rule.”

One of the requirements of this new legislation is for each food processing facility to have at least one PCQI to oversee or conduct preparation of a food safety plan, reanalysis of the food safety plan, validation of preventive controls and review of records. Becoming a PCQI requires successful completion of an FDA-approved training in the development and application of risk-based preventive controls, or have this training through approved qualified job experience.

Cost of the training is $750 and includes a Preventive Control Guide, Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) certification fee, Preventive Control Exercise Book, lunch and snacks. Individuals successfully completing this course and passing the course exam will become a PCQI and can perform all the food safety activities as outlined in FSMA.

Class size is limited to 25 participants. To register, go to http://bit.ly/2jPzSa2.

Anyone with questions about the training can contact Adair Hoover, cpope@clemson.edu.

FSMA is a comprehensive law; the Produce Safety Rule is only one of seven key elements it covers.  Farmers who are not exempt from the Produce Safety Rule should attend training to help them document safe-handling practices on the five areas covered in the rule. For a complete list of exemptions to the rule, read the FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety. The FDA has published a flow chart to help identify who is exempt and who is not exempt.

The FSMA also covers human food (in addition to fresh produce) and animal food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. A study by the FDA of foodborne disease outbreaks between 1996 and 2010 showed approximately 131 produce-related reported outbreaks, resulting in 14,350 outbreak-related illnesses, 1,382 hospitalizations and 34 deaths. The study also showed that contamination was likely to have happened early in the production chain, during growing, harvesting, manufacturing, processing, packing, holding or transportation. These outbreaks were associated with approximately 20 different fresh produce commodities. FDA officials said the passage of FSMA enables the administration to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system. This law allows FDA officials to focus more on preventing food safety problems rather than relying primarily on reacting to problems after they occur.