Regulations in the proposed produce rule would impact farms which grow, harvest, pack, or hold most raw agricultural commodities; produce grown in the U.S. and internationally; and farms with annual sales greater than $25,000.

Farms with sales less than $25,000 annually would be exempt from the regulations.

Stenzel has a major beef with this exemption. The farm leader voiced support for smaller farms, yet believes all produce farms, regardless of size or income, should follow the same food safety standards.

Stenzel quipped, “Scientists on the United Fresh staff say bacteria don’t know what size farm they are living on – a big farm or a small farm – 1 acre or 100 acres.”

“We want to make sure everyone growing produce is doing so safely,” he explained.

The small farm exemption was a hotly-contested issue during the FSMA deliberations in Congress. The so-called Tester Amendment, supported by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, was adopted in the final measure. The amendment had strong vocal proponents and opponents.

The produce safety rule includes several other exclusions including:

  • Produce consumed on the farm by the family which grows the crop;
  • Certain produce rarely consumed raw (the ‘potato provision’); and
  • Fruits and vegetables which undergo thermal processing, including a bacterial kill step.

An example of produce thermal processing is processing tomatoes grown for ketchup. The tomatoes are cooked and heated to kill any bacteria.

Speaking of bacteria, the FDA rule identifies five major routes or sources of microbial contamination in food. These include agricultural water; biological soil amendments of animal origin; worker health and hygiene; equipment, tools, buildings, and sanitation; and domesticated and wild animals.

Stenzel agrees with FDA’s source list of microbe sources.