US: What is considered a farm under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule?

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule defines a farm by its activities of growing, harvesting, packing or holding crops. Let’s explore some of the small but challenging aspects of that very simple definition.

by Phillip Tocco

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule regulates farms. The definition of a farm can be a tricky business under the law, however, and bears a bit of exploration. Some businesses you may not think of as a farm are considered a farm under the FSMA definition.

For purposes of review, the FSMA Produce Safety Rule was passed in 2011, and most parts are only just now starting to take effect. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule affects all growers of fresh produce either directly or indirectly, but those growing produce usually consumed raw are more likely to be covered by the rule.

Farms, as defined in the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, grow, harvest, pack or hold crops. Each of those different terms—growing, harvesting, packing and holding—can be applied together or separately. If a business does any one of those things, it might be considered a farm. For example, a business that grows produce on rented land or greenhouse space may be a farm even though it does not own the land or space itself.

Harvesting is the physical act of harvest and does not require the harvester own the land or crop. This means that a custom harvest operation meets the definition of a farm under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule. For example, a business that pays a grower for the right to harvest a crop and sells the crop at a profit can be a farm even though it does not grow the produce itself. As of June 2018, it is unclear as to how a custom harvest operation that does not sell the produce it harvests would determine “gross produce sales” in light of the fact that they may never own the product to begin with, but it is clear they carry the designation “farm.”

Packing and holding are also considered farm activities, irrespective of whether the facility that is packing or holding the produce is the owner or grower of the crop. Businesses that only pack or hold produce might be farms or they might be facilities (subject to a different FSMA rule, the Preventive Controls Rule for Human Foods), depending on where they are physically located and what their ownership structure is. For example, a cold storage business that simply stores fresh produce until it’s sold may be a farm under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule definition.

If you have specific questions about whether or not you are a farm under the Produce Safety Rule or have difficulty determining your own status, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Work Group at gaps@msu.edu or 517-788-4292.

Funding for this article was made possible in part by the Food and Drug Administration through grant PAR-16-137. The views expressed in the written materials do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does any mention of trade names, commercial practices or organization imply endorsement by the United States Government.


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