Food Safety Modernization Act workshop to be held Thursday
To educate about FDA-enforced law imposing safer nationwide standards
SAN JUAN — Representatives of Puerto Rico supermarket chain Econo, alongside Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores, announced Wednesday a compliance workshop on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin to enforce early next year.
With this regulation, the FDA intends to transform the food safety system by changing the focus from one of response to contamination outbreaks to one mostly focused on prevention.
According to data from the agency, about 48 million people, or one in six, get sick every year; with 128,000 people hospitalized and 3,000 dying each year from foodborne illness.
This law requires farmers to establish minimum standards for the growth, harvest, packaging and safe handling of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The regulation establishes that farmers must come into compliance in 2020 to not risk being fined. Once the grace period ends, fines will be issued to farmers found to be violating the law. However, the amount of the fines was not specified.
“We have noticed many farmers are not aware of the scope of this regulation or simply are not aware of it,” said Salvador Ramírez, resident agronomist at Econo supermarkets.
“For our chain it is extremely important that the producers of the fruit of the land are in compliance to continue doing business with us,” the supermarket executive explained.
The workshop, which will be conducted at the offices of the Colegio de Agronomos (agronomist association) in Hato Rey, will provide the knowledge that farmers needs to continue doing business with the supermarket chains, which have to comply with the FSMA.
For its part, Flores said that what the law seeks is to require that each producer be trained in ways to safely harvest and pack their products as several dangerous food contamination outbreaks stateside have been reported in recent years. However, the secretary admitted that there is no account of any instance when a locally harvested product had to be withdrawn from the Puerto Rico market.
“The [department] will establish an active role in the education and implementation of the new FMSA regulation. This new regulation is aimed at making food that is consumed raw safer. In the case of farmers, safety and security measures will be established that range from planting, cultivation [and] product handling [to] packaging and water monitoring factors used for all processes,” Flores indicated.
“This year, we have actively worked with the banana producing sector and began educating the plantain and fruit and vegetable production sectors. Next year, we will continue the educational guidance plan for those agricultural sectors that are regulated by the FSMA,” he added.
Although the head of Agriculture referred to the FSMA as a “new regulation,” it was promulgated by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011. The law grants the FDA a number of new powers, including mandatory recall authority, and requires the agency to undertake more than a dozen rulemakings and issue at least 10 guidance documents, as well as reports, plans, strategies, standards, notices, and other tasks.