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Potato industry rolls out new commodity-specific food-safety guidelines

The National Potato Council unveiled a new commodity-specific food-safety guide that NPC President John Keeling says will help maintain the commodity's safety record for those growers who follow the new template.

"We have a very good food-safety record," Keeling said, announcing the new, 67-page commodity-specific food-safety guidelines for the production, harvest, storage and packing of potatoes, during a Nov. 8 webinar.

Since 2011, the potato industry has been developing commodity-specific food-safety guidelines for potatoes. Before beginning work on the food-safety guidelines, the potato industry commissioned a microbial and chemical risk assessment that characterized the human health risk from consuming contaminated potatoes, and found risks to human health were low.

The guidelines are broken down into four sections: I) General Practices, II) Production and Harvest Operations, III) Storage Unit Operations, and IV) Packinghouse Unit Operations. Each section lists a set of best practices to address potential food-safety issues associated with those specific operations.

Along with directing growers to minimize microbial, chemical and physical hazards, the guidelines can be used to harmonize audit systems and help companies with sanitation operating procedures and employee training. It is intended to serve as a basic guideline to harmonize all food-safety programs in how they assess and address food-safety hazards known to affect the growing, storing and packing of potatoes, the guidelines said.

The document is not an audit checklist, however, said Susan Leaman, vice president for Intertox Decision Sciences LLC and a participant during the Nov. 8 webinar. It is not designed to address all potential hazards and not every practice, she explained.

During the webinar, participants asked about the potato industry's assessment of the produce safety and preventive controls regulations proposed by the Food & Drug Administration.

While the Nov. 15 comment deadline is fast approaching for the FSMA rules, Keeling said it may take several iterations to get the rules right, suggesting FDA may have to reissue the proposals for comment before making them final.

But FDA did get one issue right, he said. Potatoes are low-risk produce items and they are rarely consumed raw so they should be exempt from the mandatory regulations on the farm.

"We will continue to make that case to FDA," he said. Other groups oppose the rarely consumed raw exemption in the proposed produce-safety regulation, but he said those groups should focus on FDA's criteria for low-risk, instead of trying to close exemptions.

The potato industry does not understand, however, why FDA views the same product as higher risk when its moves from the farm to the packing house, Keeling added.