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State Fruit And Vegetable Growers Get Ready For Food Safety Changes

Federal Rules Affect Growing, Harvesting And Processing Produce

Dean Fosdick/AP Photo

State agriculture officials are gearing up for federal food safety law changes that will affect vegetable and fruit growers.

The new rules, which take effect later this month, are the latest part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act to be phased in. The legislation was designed to prevent foodborne illness, like the deadly 2006 nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach.

The safety law gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration new authority to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed. It also allows the agency to recall produce.

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Federal produce safety rules for large farms go into effect on Jan. 26 and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is working to educate farmers on what are called the biggest changes in 70 years.

“It is a big change. One of the big parts is that it puts foreign suppliers on the same playing field as local growers,” said Shawn Bartholomew, produce program and policy supervisor at DATCP.

The rules restrict when and how raw manure can be applied to fields and require testing for pathogens in water used to rinse fruits and vegetables.

“Water rules don’t take effect in 2020. So farmers have time to prepare,” said Bartholomew.

While the regulations start in a matter of days, state agriculture officials say enforcement will not begin in earnest until 2019. A large farm is one with more than $500,000 of produce sales annually. The following year, farms with at least $250,000 in sales will have to comply. And the final year, 2021, rules take effect for small farms, those with sales of more than $25,000.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Wisconsin is ranked 11th in the total number of produce farms in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Wisconsin had 68 foodborne outbreaks from 2015-16, caused by a variety of foods, including produce.

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