FDA On-Farm Inspections

December 2, 2011

The Food Safety Modernization Act has tasked FDA with improving the food safety of the U.S. food supply, and imported food products are a focus for the agency. Typically, FDA has not conducted on-farm audits, but this is changing as the agency is tasked with certifying imports.

“We have an emerging interest in farm inspections,” said Crystal McKenna, produce safety specialist with the Office of Compliance. “I think the trend is going to increase.”
On-farm inspections are just one way FDA is addressing the challenge of food imports. About 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 45 percent of fresh fruits. There are more finished products coming, and the supply chain is becoming increasingly high-tech and complex.

Currently, the criteria for selecting farms for inspections is from information provided on the entry data forms, as well as the volume of the product entering and the relative risk.
McKenna shared information from 39 farm inspections to members of the industry during the United Fresh Public Policy Conference Oct. 3-5. FDA field inspectors had conducted 39 inspections of foreign farms – data the agency will be using to improve its prevention measures for imported produce.

The summary of findings from the 39 inspections revealed:

  • 19 of 39 foreign farms had a written food safety plan. “That’s not as many as would have liked, but it showed that they were at least thinking about food safety,” McKenna said.
  • Only one farm had a policy on how to handle fields after a flood event.
  • 18 of 35 used ground water exclusively, and 8 of 35 used river water to irrigate crops.
  • Not many of the farms used soil amendments, but only one reported testing and none had documentation of soil amendments applied.
  • 33 of 34 farms had worker training for hygiene, and 25 of 32 had access to medical facilities.
  • 25 of 32 farms had conveniently-placed toilets, but one inspector did note the presence of human feces in a field.
  • 26 of 39 farms monitored handwashing.
  • At 14 of the 39 farms, farm or domestic animals were in the area of the fields.
  • Two farms used animal labor in the fields.
  • 4 of the 39 farms were located near feed lots.
  • At 26 of 30 farms, FDA inspectors noted bare hand contact with produce, which McKenna said the agency was not opposed to so long as proper handwashing occurs.
  • Employees at 3 of 39 farms used gloves when touching produce.
  • 38 of the 39 farms cleaned and sanitized tools.

The information FDA is collecting will assist in its mission of documenting the source and route of contamination. In addition to collecting the data, FDA leaves documentation at the farm identifying the problem areas noted during the inspection.

—By Scott Christie

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