In an effort to ensure the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables for consumers, Cornell’s Produce Safety Alliance is helping to explain complex federal food safety rules and develop new ways to assess agricultural water use.
“Water used during the production of fresh fruits and vegetables represents a potential pathway for contamination with human pathogens,” said Gretchen Wall, Cornell’s Produce Safety Alliance coordinator and lead author of “Key Outcomes From a Collaborative Summit on Agricultural Water Standards for Fresh Produce,” released in February in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, a journal published by the Institute of Food Technologists.
The work resulted from a two-day national meeting last year of growers, scientists, produce industry members and regulators on how to improve the Produce Safety Rule, specifically the agricultural water provisions, an important component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
In the Produce Safety Rule, Wall said, microbial quality standards and testing requirements were established so that when agricultural water makes contact with produce – whether in the growing, packing or holding phases of production – the risks associated with water are reduced. But some of the provisions in the regulation were difficult to understand and challenging to implement on farms, making it hard for farms to comply.
“The United States is a big place with many different water sources and systems,” said Betsy Bihn, senior extension associate and director of the Produce Safety Alliance, a collaboration between Cornell, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Bihn said farmers and producers draw their water from municipal sources, ponds, rivers, wells or other sources such as springs. Because their water can come from a variety of sources, the costs of testing and inspecting distribution systems and maintaining microbial quality standards can be expensive. Growers want to know that the money and time they are investing in water monitoring and testing is helping them make water management decisions that reduce produce safety risks, the report said.