Food Safety Modernization Act
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in 2011, and final rules went into effect on January 26, 2016. For up-to-date information on the Act, see the FDA’s web page here. For information on the two FSMA rules that most impact local farms, visit these pages:
- FSMA Produce Rule (which applies to fresh produce)
- FSMA Preventive Controls Rule (which applies to processed produce)
In Massachusetts, the Department of Agricultural Resources is responsible for implementing the Produce Rule as well as providing training to growers on the rule, and the Department of Public Health is responsible for implementing the Preventive Controls Rule.
Here is a simple guide to FSMA Produce Rule compliance to help you figure out if and when your farm must comply with the FSMA Produce Rule, as well as the FDA-approved training manual to help you learn how to comply with the Produce Rule.
The UMass food safety website is a great resource for more information about FSMA, how to access technical support, and a range of other general food safety topics.
In addition, here is a regional water testing lab map, which has been compiled to help produce growers locate a nearby lab that has the capability to perform water tests using FSMA-approved test methods. Farms covered under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule must test their agricultural water using a method approved by the FDA.
Third Party Audits
Audits provide verification that farms have implemented food safety plans and practices. This verification may be required by some buyers, especially for farms that have not already been state-inspected to verify FSMA compliance. Farmers in Massachusetts who want food safety certification may receive Commonwealth Quality Program (CQP) certification and/or USDA-Good Agricultural Practices (USDA GAP) certification.
- CQP Audits – The vast majority of buyers that require food safety certification will now accept CQP certification, which is the food safety certification program implemented by the MA Department of Agricultural Resources. CQP is unique to Massachusetts, but it is based on national GAP and Food Safety Modernization Act standards. To get CQP certification, farms must satisfy the same requirements as farms that must comply with the Produce Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), essentially making the program voluntary compliance with FSMA.
- USDA GAP Audits – The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) is no longer conducting USDA GAP or Harmonized GAP audits as of the 2019 growing season. Massachusetts farms can still participate in the USDA GAP program but must do so directly through the USDA. See more information on the USDA’s website.This UMass USDA GAP manual includes lots of information about audits, but note that it has not been updated since 2013 and does not include any information regarding FSMA.
Farm Food Safety Plans
For many growers, whether or not they are required to comply with FSMA or get a third party audit, a written food safety plan is a good first step to reducing food safety risks. This plan need not be complicated. In many cases, creating a food safety plan won’t add additional tasks or equipment, but will provide a record of practices that are already in place, like hand-washing. Creating the food safety plan may also alert growers to simple food safety practices that may have been overlooked.
- UMass Extension offers this guidance on developing a farm food safety plan.
- Ag Matters LLC in Maine has a farm food safety template. Growers should adapt the plan to their own particular circumstances.
- The UMass GAP and Harmonized GAP Food Safety Manual, mentioned above, includes sample farm food safety plans, as well as a valuable collection of resources related to food safety planning and audits.
Farm Food Safety Training
UMass Extension and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources offer regular training on GAP/food safety principles and the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Training can help growers comply with regulatory and buyer requirements, develop food safety plans, identify and correct areas of weakness, and understand whether food safety inspections or third party audits are needed for their farm business.
- This UMass Food Safety webpage provides information about upcoming trainings.
- Watch CISA’s events page for additional food safety trainings in the region.
Reducing Legal Risks
Try the Farmers’ Guide to Reducing the Legal Risks of a Food Safety Incident, released by Farm Commons. This resource will help farmers to understand the legal aspects of food safety, some of the many risks that exist, how to reduce the likelihood of these risks materializing, and how to recover in case they do materialize – because bad things can happen to even the best farmers.
More specifically, the guide will help farmers to understand the following situations and the necessary steps to take in each case:
- How personal injury lawsuits function
- How contracts can create additional liability
- The legal aspects of a recall
- The potential for government involvement in a food safety outbreak
Food Safety for Processors
If you are selling processed products, as opposed to fresh produce, you will need to comply with additional requirements. As discussed above, the FSMA Preventive Controls Rule covers some processors, and all processors must be licensed by their local boards of health and/or by the MA Department of Public Health (DPH). Food safety requirements vary according to the product, since some foods are considered to be more “potentially hazardous” than others.
- Low-risk foods that you will only be selling directly to the consumer may be produced in residential retail kitchens and only need to be licensed by the local board of health. Such foods include most baked goods (except for dairy-rich baked goods like cream-filled pastries, cheesecake, and custards), confections, jams and jellies, dried produce and herbs, vinegar, popcorn, and cereal and granola. Contact your local board of health for more information.
- If you want to produce other foods that are considered “potentially hazardous,” and/or if you want to sell your processed products wholesale or across state lines, you must apply for a state license through the Massachusetts DPH Food Protection Program for “food processing and/or distribution at wholesale.” The application fee for this license is about $300, and you must comply with the state regulations for Good Manufacturing Practices for Food.
- Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) – Some processors – like dairy farms and juice and cider producers – are required under state law to have HACCP plans. In addition, some buyers require suppliers of processed or ready-to-eat products to have voluntary HACCP plans in place, and/or to have third-party audits of their HACCP plans.
- Ready-to-Eat Salad Greens and HACCP – In 2009, CISA generated detailed information on the feasibility of third-party audited HACCP plans and related food safety topics for producers of ready-to-eat salad greens. Note that this information has not been updated recently, so some information is likely out of date.
Feel free to contact CISA if you would like additional help navigating food safety regulations or audits – we can help you understand basic requirements and direct you to relevant resources.