FDA Proposes Rule to Improve Safety of Agricultural Water Used on Produce

Dec. 21, 2021
"There have been far too many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to pre-harvest agricultural water," said Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas.

FDA earlier this month proposed a rule to improve produce safety by requiring farms to conduct annual assessments of the safety of the water used to grow produce.

“There have been far too many foodborne illness outbreaks possibly linked to pre-harvest agricultural water in recent years, including water coming from lands nearby produce farms," said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. "If finalized, we’re confident this proposal would result in fewer outbreaks in the U.S. related to produce, protecting public health and saving lives."

The agency called it a further step in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and it proposes to replace some of the existing requirements for agricultural water in the Produce Safety Rule (PSR).

The proposed rule, if finalized, would change certain pre-harvest agricultural water requirements for produce and farms subject to the PSR, other than sprouts operations. Key provisions include:

  • A requirement for farms to manage their agricultural water quality based on the results of a comprehensive systems assessment (“agricultural water assessment”) that is adaptable to the wide variety of water sources and uses and future scientific advancements.
  • An annual assessment by farms of their pre-harvest agricultural water to identify any conditions likely to introduce hazards into or onto covered produce or food contact surfaces. Based on these assessments, farms would then determine whether corrective or mitigation measures are reasonably necessary to reduce the potential for contamination. The assessment would include an evaluation of the farm’s water system, agricultural water use practices, crop characteristics, environmental conditions and other relevant factors, such as the results of any testing conducted to inform the assessment.
  • A requirement that farms implement expedited mitigation measures for hazards related to certain activities associated with adjacent and nearby lands, to protect the quality of the water used on produce. This is being included following several recent outbreak investigations on produce that revealed potential routes of contamination including activities and conditions, such as animal grazing and the presence of livestock and wildlife on land adjacent to, or near, produce farms or their water sources.
  • The removal of certain testing requirements for pre-harvest agricultural water and replacing them with the agricultural water assessments identified above. The proposed revisions are intended to address stakeholder concerns about complexity and practical implementation challenges while protecting public health.

The FDA will hold two virtual public meetings to discuss the proposal and hear feedback, and more details will be announced in a forthcoming Federal Register notice.

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