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WASHINGTON -- New enforceable safety standards for fresh produce are due out next October, the Food & Drug Administration announced Dec. 7.

FDA plans to propose regulations for fresh produce safety at the farm and packinghouse based on lessons learned from Good Agricultural Practices and the July 2009 commodity-specific guidance documents.

"The proposed rule also would emphasize the importance of environmental assessments to identify hazards and possible pathways of contamination and provide examples of risk-reduction practices recognizing that operators must tailor their preventive controls to particular hazards and conditions affecting their operations," FDA said in the Dec. 7 regulatory agenda, which the government publishes twice a year.

The Produce Marketing Association will be looking for risk-based, science- based produce safety standards that are commodity-specific, apply to imports and domestic produce, and allow for flexibility, Kathy Means, vice president of government relations for PMA, told The Produce News.

"It needs to be flexible and scalable," she said, but new regulations need to cover small growers as well as large growers. As an analogy, she said that it would not be acceptable to allow small automakers to bypass safety requirements.

Produce safety rules should be flexible and should tell growers what outcomes the FDA wants rather than mandating prescriptive testing standards, she said.

For example, she proposed that FDA should not tell produce growers to test their water monthly if the growers source from municipal sources that monitor water supplies.

Another group praised the FDA for writing new standards aimed at preventing contamination. "Given the importance of fruits and vegetable to our diets, a science-based approach to food safety will improve our health and increase confidence in the foods we serve our families," Jim O'Hara, director of the Produce Safety Project, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said in a Dec. 8 press statement.