Which vegetables are covered by new FDA produce safety rules?

Many Michigan vegetables are cooked before eating or processed prior to sale and are exempt from FDA produce safety rules proposed under the Food Safety and Modernization Act. However, other vegetables will be covered under the rule.

On Jan. 16, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the new produce safety rule under the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), which mandates food safety planning for production of vegetables at risk for carrying foodborne illnesses. These rules have implications for many aspects of vegetable production, including water testing when using surface waters for irrigation, use of manure, and compost. One confusing aspect of this rule is that it covers some vegetables, while others are exempt.

There are two situations where the type of vegetable you grow may make it exempt from the proposed produce safety rules. First, FDA recognizes many vegetables are rarely consumed raw and are cooked prior to eating, which kills bacteria causing foodborne illnesses. The list of exempted vegetables includes many grown by both large- and small-scale growers in Michigan.

Vegetable produce typically cooked before eating

Acres harvested in Mich. - USDA-NASS 2007

Potatoes

42,267

Asparagus

12,127

Sweet corn

9,499

Pumpkin

6,848

Winter squash

4,627

Turnips

822

Beets

333

Eggplant

236

Collard greens

152

Rhubarb

106

Kale

55

Brussels sprouts

27

Sweet potatoes

27

Okra

15

Lima beans

NA

Parsnips

NA

Second, prior to sale, other vegetables may be processed in a way that kills microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses. Specifically, produce that is cooked or is destined for further processing where a kill step is employed may be exempt. This includes many major crops in Michigan, including pickling cucumbers, snap beans and carrots. However, the same crop will be subject to produce safety rules if it is sold fresh. For example, in Michigan the majority of cabbage, bell peppers and summer squash are sold fresh, although some is processed.

Vegetable crops that can be sold processed or fresh

Acres harvested for processing in Mich. - USDA-NASS 2007

Acres harvested for fresh market in Mich. - USDA-NASS 2007

Cucumbers and pickles

35,812

5,017

Snap beans

16,462

2,952

Carrots

3,338

118

Tomatoes

2,995

2,494

Green peas

2,145

509

Cabbage

728

1,757

Summer squash

662

2,224

Bell peppers

203

1,374

Celery

NA

NA

While many of Michigan’s major vegetable crops are exempt in many situations, others are almost exclusively sold fresh and will be subject to produce safety rules (although a small percentage may be processed). Notable among these are onions and watermelon, two major, high-value specialty crops in Michigan.

Major vegetable crops primarily sold fresh

Acres produced for fresh market in Mich. - USDA-NASS 2007

Onions

4,522

Watermelons

1,014

Lettuce

876

Cantaloupes

517

 Importantly, Michigan-grown onions are primarily yellow cooking varieties that are usually not consumed raw. This presents one important place for growers to provide feedback to FDA before the end of the comment period on May 16.

If your farm contains a mix of vegetable crops, parts of your operation may be exempt, with others may be covered by FDA rules. For example, if you grow red beets, parsnips and onions, your beets and parsnips would be exempt, while onions would not be. Importantly, there are other ways your farm can be exempt from these rules; these exemptions are based on farm income and the distance of the ultimate consumers of produce from your farm.

To comment on the FDA produce safety rules, attend a remote listening session in Hart, Mich., on April 24 from 8:30 a.m. to noon. This session will be remotely linked to a session occurring in Lansing, Mich., where FDA officials will take comments on the proposed rule. Comments will be fielded by Extension personnel on site in Lansing, Mich., and communicated to FDA staff.

For more information on the Hart, Mich., listening session, contact Michigan State University Extension vegetable educator .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 231-873-2129. A remote link to the Lansing, Mich., session will also be set up in Marquette, Mich., at the Marquette Food Coop. For information on the Marquette, Mich., session and general food safety questions, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 517-788-4292.

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