The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have completed a key step in advancing collaborative efforts to streamline produce safety requirements for farmers.
The two entities said the USDA's Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices Audit Program (USDA H-GAP) is now aligned with the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The United Fresh Produce Association has welcomed the development.
“Specialty crop farmers who take advantage of a USDA Harmonized GAP audit now will have a much greater likelihood of passing a FSMA inspection as well," said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
"This means one stop at USDA helps producers meet federal regulatory requirements, deliver the safest food in the world and grow the market for American-grown food. This is an important first step."
While the requirements of both programs are not identical, the relevant technical components in the FDA Produce Safety Rule are covered in the USDA program.
The aligned components include areas such as biological soil amendments, sprouts, domesticated and wild animals, worker training, health and hygiene, and equipment, tools and buildings.
The alignment will help farmers by enabling them to assess their food safety practices as they prepare to comply with the Produce Safety Rule, the USDA said. However, the USDA audits are not a substitute for FDA or state regulatory inspections, the organization said.
United Fresh said it supports and appreciates the move, saying it "provides growers with confidence that the market access audit is consistent with federal produce safety requirements."
"It’s important that federal regulations and private audits don’t require growers to adhere to inconsistent or conflicting requirements,” said Dr. Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology.
“This alignment between FDA and USDA is also evidence of the commitment the agencies have made to work together in support of fresh produce safety.”
The technical requirements of the Harmonized Standard were developed nearly a decade ago by an industry-driven process to reduce audit fatigue, the association said.
“As Secretariat for the Harmonized Standard, United Fresh is pleased that the updates to the technical standards that were made two years ago incorporated aspects of the new FSMA Produce Safety Rule,” said Tom Stenzel, president & CEO, describing the FDA's recognition of the USDA program as "an important step forward."