Letting (the) Produce Safety ‘Rule’ in Michigan

What is the big deal with food safety?

It can be rather ‘gut wrenching’ finding out about potentially contaminated food. Over the year’s farmers, growers, retailers and more have had to adapt to new challenges in ensuring products from farms are not only meeting consumers changing market demands, but safeguarding that those products are not contaminated. Through changes in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the state of Michigan, and partnering organizations have developed new strategies to tackle the biggest challenges with pesky microbes and food borne illnesses.

What is the Produce Safety Rule?

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule is the first ever regulation to place standards on the production, harvest and handling of fruits and vegetables in effort to increase food safety, and prevent microbial contamination and food borne illnesses in the United States. The rule itself applies to all fruits and vegetables meant for human consumption that are defined as typically consumed raw; in FSMA text stated as a Raw Agricultural Commodity (RAC). Finding out whether or not one is covered by the Rule can be tricky to navigate, but one should not be discouraged!

What has been the state of Michigan’s Approach?

Implementing resources has been a collaborative effort over the state, and country. The Michigan Department of Agriculture has approached it by establishing use of the Michigan Produce Safety Risk Assessment program. This program offers technical assistance, and resources to farmers or other entities that are required to become compliant with the new Produce Safety Rule in the next few years. The intention being to assist and offer cost effective food safety management practices that can be implemented and maintained by producers. It can assist in demonstrating how an operation aligns with Produce Safety under FSMA, and prepare for any food safety inspections.

So… what are Produce Safety Technicians?

The Michigan Produce Safety Risk Assessment program is delivered to any Michigan produce growers by Produce Safety Technicians through grant funding administered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).  For those requesting assistance the Technician provides voluntary and free services to all farms who grow, pack, process, or sell fresh produce regardless of size, income or market reach. The technicians offer resources like undergoing a Produce Safety Risk Assessment, assisting growers in developing a Food Safety Plan, an On-Farm Readiness Review for those that have an already detailed Food Safety Plan, and other information regarding resources and education when it comes to compliance with the new Produce Safety Rule.

Again, this program is FREE, voluntary and strictly confidential. Technicians are prohibited to share any information obtained during a visit. Currently in the state of Michigan there are six Produce Safety Technicians that are employed within the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts. Michelle Jacokes recently came on board with the Manistee Conservation District, and will be offering services to Manistee, Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Antrim Counties. Other Produce Safety Technicians locations, and contact information can be found on the Produce Safety Technician Coverage Map, and services may be available outside of those coverage areas as needed.

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (21 CFR § 112) is a major adjustment to our nation’s food safety practices, and these individuals are here to help! Collaborating to develop farm-specific action to food safety needs.

Michelle Jacokes is the Produce Safety Technician for Manistee, Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Antrim Counties. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Did you read Alex’s article about the Produce Safety Technician for the UP? See it here. Plus, you can find more farming information here.