The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) included some exemptions for very small operations. If you are not sure if you are exempt, please check out our first article on Food Safety here. If your farm is not exempted from the Food Safety Modernization Act, chances are your farm could be considered a Qualified Exempt Operation as long as your farm meets these two requirements in the last three years:

  1. Sell between $25,000 and $500,000 on gross food annual sales, (if you sell less than $25,000 annually you are considered exempt). An important tip: when calculating your total food sales, you must include all other food sales from your farm including grains, animal feed, dairy, produce, etc. And,
  2. Sell more than 50% of your total food sales “qualified end users.” The Rule defines a qualified end user as: “either (a) the consumer of the food or (b) a restaurant or retail food establishment that is located in the same state or the same Indian reservation as the farm and(c) produce is not sold more than 275 miles away from the farm.”

By being a qualified exempt operation your farm will be subject to some but not all provisions of the Rule. In this article we will discuss these provisions in detail.

Record Keeping

The rule establishes that you must have “adequate records necessary to demonstrate that you satisfy the criteria for a qualified exemption, including a written record reflecting that you performed an annual review and verification of your farm’s continued eligibility for the qualified exemption.” Please understand that you have to keep these records for the previous 3 years. In practical terms, this means that if you want to be considered qualified exempt by the year 2020, you have to demonstrate that in each of the previous 3 years, your farm operation fulfilled the two requirements listed above to be considered qualified exempt.

An example of a sales record form. Source: NCAT

You must keep all your sales records. Sales to qualified end users include your sales to consumers through farmers markets, farm stands, u-pick, and CSAs. Restaurants, schools, buying clubs, internet sales and grocery stores would also be considered qualified end users as long as they are located in the same state or no more than 275 miles away from your farm. At the end of the year you have to add all of these sales up and compare them to your total annual sales to determine if your operation meets the requirements of a qualified exemption.

Another tip: when calculating your gross food annual sales, the law allows adjustments for inflation. Use the year 2011 as the baseline to calculate these adjustments. This may mean that even if your sales are over $500,000 on the year 2017, you may really be under $500,000 in 2011-Dollars when adjusted for inflation.

The law states that the records must be dated, legible and accurate, and should be available within 24 hours after official request. These records must identify the locations and fields of your farm where you carried out some activity related to food safety. These records can be kept on paper or electronically.

A farmer sells produce at the Brevard Farmers’ Market.

Labeling

The law states that your farm name and complete business address must be disclosed “prominently” in the produce package label or at the point of purchase through a poster, sign, placard or document. In the case of internet sales, use an electronic notice. This is required so that, in case of an outbreak, FDA can quickly trace back to the source of the problem.

Final Thoughts

The qualified exemption allows small to medium size farms that sell most of their produce locally and to a qualified end user to be subject to only some of the provisions of the law. Here we have discussed what you have to do to maintain your farm as a qualified exempt operation under the law.

You must do your best to produce and sell safe food. Please keep in mind that FDA can withdraw your qualified exempt status in the event of an active investigation linking your farm to a foodborne illness outbreak or when the FDA, based on the conditions of your farm, deems it necessary to prevent or mitigate an outbreak.

Additionally, your buyer may require you to obtain a third party food safety audit even if you are exempt or qualified exempt under FSMA.

 

Resources:

The UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Extension Program

The program continually offers farm food safety trainings across the state, including assisting you to create your own farm’s food safety plan. Check out our calendar of events and trainings here:

http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/events_calendar.html, and food safety educational content here:

http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/food_safety/index.html

The Food Safety Modernization Act Final Rule

The up-to-date legislative language is found on e-CFR, or the Electronic Code of Federal Regulation and the guidance of the act is located here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm334114.htm

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Am I Exempt Flowchart

See a great flowchart to help you find out if your farm is affected by FSMA, developed by the NASC.

http://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016_2-FSMA-Final-Rule-Flowchart-V3.pdf. More detailed information for the Exemption and “Qualified Exempt” farms from NSAC: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/produce-rule-analysis-part-1/

UF/IFAS Food Safety on the Farm Series

Good Agricultural Practices: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_food_safety_on_the_farm

The On-Farm Food Safety Project

Guidance information and an online tool for you to develop your food safety plan.

https://onfarmfoodsafety.org/how-to-get-food-safety-certified/

Other Publications on the Topic

Food Safety Begins on the Farm – A Grower Self-Assessment of Food Safety Risks. A. Rangarajan, E.A. Bihn, M.P. Pritts, and R.B. Gravani. 2003

Wholesale Success – A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling and Packing Produce. Slama, Jim & Diffley, Atina. 2013. Fourth Edition. https://Familyfarmed.org

Cornell University’s National Good Agricultural Practices Program

A list of more publications: http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/educationalmaterials.html

Things You Should Know About Farm Food Safety

By Matt Lollar, UF/IFAS Jackson County Horticulture Agent.

It seems like years ago that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law, but it was actually 2011.  With a new congress convening this week, and the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump on January 20th, the outlook for FSMA is unpredictable.  Whatever the future may hold, there are a number of important food safety compliance facts you should know.

Exempt/Excluded Status

Depending on the size of your farm, what you grow, or your clientele, you may be exempt or excluded from FSMA.  Whatever your status may be, it is important that you understand food safety protocol and that you proactively and reactively reduce food safety risks on your farm.

  • Farms that have an annual value of produce sold of $25,000 (based on a three year average, adjusted for inflation) or less are not covered by the regulation.
  • To be considered qualified exempt, your farm must have food sales less than $500,000 per year (based on a three year average, adjusted for inflation) AND the farm’s direct sales to qualified end-users must exceed sales to all buyers combined during the previous three years. (A qualified end-user is either the consumer of the food or a restaurant or retail food establishment that is located in the same state or the same Indian reservation as the farm or not more than 275 miles away.)
  • Produce Not Covered by the Regulation
    • Produce commodities that FDA has identified as rarely consumed raw: asparagus; black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans; garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets; cashews; sour cherries; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; sweet corn; cranberries; dates; dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; ginger; hazelnuts; horseradish; lentils; okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts.
    • Produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption.
    • Produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity.  (A raw agricultural commodity is any food in its raw or natural state.)
  • A farm with the qualified exemption must still meet certain modified requirements, including prominently and conspicuously displaying the name and the complete business address of the farm where the produce was grown either on the label of the produce or at the point of purchase.

Compliance Deadlines

Required compliance dates are set based on farm size – the larger the farm, the sooner it will need to be in compliance.

  • Very small businesses, defined as greater than $25,000 but less than $250,000 in average annual (previous three year period) produce sales, will need to comply with the regulation within four years.
  • Small businesses, defined as greater than $250,000 but less than $500,000 in average annual (previous three year period) produce sales, will need to comply with the regulation within three years.
  • All other businesses, defined as greater than $500,000 in average annual (previous three year period) produce sales, will need to comply with the regulation within two years of the effective date.
  • Compliance dates for farms eligible for qualified exemptions are:
    • Labeling requirements (if applicable): January 1, 2020
    • Retention of records supporting eligibility for a qualified exemption: Effective date of final rule (January 26, 2016)
    • For all other modified requirements for farms growing covered produce other than sprouts: Very small businesses—4 years, Small businesses—3 years

Note:  The compliance dates for certain aspects of the agricultural water requirements allow an additional two years beyond each of these compliance dates.

Washing lettuce. Photo Credit: Cornell University Extension

Employee Training

Regardless of whether your farm has implemented a food safety plan or not, the FDA requires approved training under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule.

  • At least one supervisor or responsible party from a farm subject to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule must have successfully completed food safety training, at least equivalent to the standardized curriculum recognized as adequate by the FDA.
  • All workers that handle or contact covered produce or supervise workers must be trained based on FSMA standards.  Everyone working on the farm should receive annual instruction on how to accomplish his/her job.  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should be developed to provide clear step-by-step instructions for how workers should complete their daily tasks.
  • Visitors to the farm must be made aware of food safety policies set by the farm, and visitors must have access to toilet and handwashing facilities.

To read more on FSMA, check out this UF/IFAS publication.

An approved Food Safety Training is scheduled for February 13 in Marianna at the Jackson County Extension Office.  For more information, and to register for the training, please visit this site.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed in 2010 is the first major overhaul of the food safety requirements since the 1930’s. Based on this law, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed new food safety rules. The Produce Safety Rule regulates farms and the Preventative Controls Rule regulates food processing facilities.  The Final FSMA rules went into effect on January 26, 2016, however non-exempt farms and processing facilities will have at least two years to become compliant.

Is your farm exempt from FSMA?

Garden crop with Spanish moss as a ground covering. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.Your farm is exempt from FSMA if any of these apply to you:

  • You only grow for personal or on-farm consumption.
  • If you sell less than $25,000 of gross sales per year of produce, averaged over the last three years.
  • You grow crops that are “not usually consumed raw” – See box below for the list of crops, taken directly from the FSMA rule. The microbiological “kill” step typical in their preparation minimizes risk of microbiological contamination.
Crops not usually consumed raw: Asparagus; beans, black; beans, great Northern; beans, kidney; beans, lima; beans, navy; beans, pinto; beets, garden (roots and tops); beets, sugar; cashews; cherries, sour; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; corn, sweet; cranberries; dates; dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; ginger; hazelnuts; horseradish; lentils; okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; squash, winter; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts.

Source: Federal Register Subpart A. General Provisions. 112.2 (a) (1)

Does your Farm Meet the Requirements to be “Qualified Exempt” under FSMA?

The FSMA rule included one other exemption, also known as the “Tester-Hagan” amendment, for farms that meet these two requirements:

food-safety-1-small1) Farms are Qualified Exempt if they sell between $25,000 and $500,000 on gross food sales and

2) Farms are Qualified Exempt if they sell more than 50% of their total produce to “qualified end users”, or direct to consumer. The Rule defines a qualified end user as: “either (a) the consumer of the food or (b) a restaurant or retail food establishment that is located in the same state or the same Indian reservation as the farm and(c) produce is not sold more than 275 miles away from the farm.”

If your farm is considered “qualified exempt” you are subject to some but not all provisions of the Rule. These provisions include a) record keeping to demonstrate that your farm is indeed qualified exempt and b) labeling to help trace your produce from the market back to the farm. More on these provisions in a follow up blog.

If your farm is not considered “qualified exempt,” your farm will be subject to the full requirements of the rule FSMA will require produce growers to follow science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.

Food Safety Certifications

food-safety-2Many buyers such as national or regional retail chains, restaurants or institutional organizations that require growers to undergo a third-party audit from a specific company in order to do business with them regardless of the fact the grower is exempt or not from FSMA.  If you are planning to sell produce through channels other than direct marketing, it is important that you find out if you need to have a food safety certification and what type of audit will be required to get that certification. Note that all audits are conducted while you are growing and packing produce. In order to successfully implement a food safety plan and pass an audit, it is important that you start this process as soon as possible and implement permanent changes in your operation. Third-party audits focus on field practices, harvest crews and packinghouses.

There are various types of food safety audits, and also different third party certification companies.

For a list of third party auditors see:

https://onfarmfoodsafety.org/how-to-get-food-safety-certified/#auditors


Resources:

The UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Extension Program

The program continually offers farm food safety trainings across the state, including assisting you to create your own farm’s food safety plan. Check out our calendar of events and trainings here:

http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/events_calendar.html, and food safety educational content here:

http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu/food_safety/index.html

The Food Safety Modernization Act Final Rule

The up-to-date legislative language is found on e-CFR, or the Electronic Code of Federal Regulation and the guidance of the act is located here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm334114.htm

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Am I Exempt Flowchart

See a great flowchart to help you find out if your farm is affected by FSMA, developed by the NASC.

http://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016_2-FSMA-Final-Rule-Flowchart-V3.pdf. More detailed information for the Exemption and “Qualified Exempt” farms from NSAC: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/produce-rule-analysis-part-1/

UF/IFAS Food Safety on the Farm Series

Good Agricultural Practices: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_food_safety_on_the_farm

The On-Farm Food Safety Project

Guidance information and an online tool for you to develop your food safety plan.

https://onfarmfoodsafety.org/how-to-get-food-safety-certified/

Other Publications on the Topic

Food Safety Begins on the Farm – A Grower Self-Assessment of Food Safety Risks. A. Rangarajan, E.A. Bihn, M.P. Pritts, and R.B. Gravani. 2003

Wholesale Success – A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling and Packing Produce. Slama, Jim & Diffley, Atina. 2013. Fourth Edition. https://Familyfarmed.org

Cornell University’s National Good Agricultural Practices Program

A list of more publications: http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/educationalmaterials.html

Grafting has been used for thousands of years to propagate and improve tree crops.   For vegetable crops this technique is relatively new. Use of grafting for disease management in vegetable production was first introduced about 90 years ago in watermelon to help manage fusarium wilt, said Dr. Xin Zhao, an Associate Professor at the Horticultural Sciences Department of the University of Florida. Vegetable grafting has been used extensively in Asian countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea; primarily employed to help manage soilborne diseases in intensive cultivation systems.

Interest in vegetable grafting is growing in the U.S. in recent years as more farmers are now looking for management alternatives to soil fumigation and integrated approaches for soil-borne disease management. There is also interest from organic growers who have limited disease management tools and from growers using heirloom or specialty cultivars that lack a good disease resistance package. Dr. Zhao has carried out research on vegetable grafting since 2008; specifically on tomatoes, melons, and watermelons. Grafting can be used for other vegetable species, but due to its cost it has mainly been used in high-value solanaceous and cucurbit crops.

watermelon grafting small

Grafted watermelon plants

Potential Benefits

The main benefit sought by grafting is to assist with managing soil-borne diseases. For example, fusarium wilt, fusarium crown and root rot, verticillium wilt, southern blight, bacterial wilt, and root-knot nematodes can be effectively controlled by using grafted plants with resistant/tolerant rootstocks in tomato production.  In her research, Dr. Zhao has seen significant yield differences between grafted and non-grafted plants where disease pressure is high. In watermelons for example, grafting has been shown to successfully control fusarium wilt. In other experiments, grafting helped heirloom tomatoes overcome root-knot nematode infestation and reduced yield loss to fusarium wilt in production of specialty tomato cultivars.

In addition to helping with soil-borne disease management, many rootstocks have shown advantages for improving plan growth and enhancing nutrient and water uptake. Grafted plants with selected rootstocks have been demonstrated to better handle abiotic stress conditions such as cold and flooding.  Research has shown that grafted tomatoes can produce over 25% higher yield than non-grafted tomatoes in field production even under low disease pressure.  Dr. Zhao’s research also showed improved nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency and irrigation water use efficiency by using grafted plants with selected rootstocks in tomato production.

tomato graftingsmall

Grafting Is Considered a Management Tool

“Don’t see grafting as a silver bullet; it needs to be integrated into your production system.” said Dr. Zhao. For example, using resistant cultivars, crop rotation, cover crops, organic amendment, and other cultural practices and physical and biological approaches can help manage diseases in addition to chemical means.  Grafting is not perfect, there’s not a “super-rootstock,” she said. The onsite disease problem need to be clearly identified in order to choose the appropriate rootstocks with the targeted disease resistance package for effective management of the disease.   In general, grafting is used for controlling soil-borne diseases and has little influence on foliar diseases, and therefore scion cultivars with good foliar disease resistance package need to be combined with resistant rootstocks to optimize the performance of grafted plants.  Dr. Zhao pointed out the importance of using grafting as an integrative tool for solving site-specific production issues, “You need to know what your objective is when using grafting to make it beneficial to your production operation.”

The Process of Grafting

We focus a lot on the physical grafting process, but the healing process is just as critical, said Dr. Zhao. Grafting means that the plants have just had undergone wounding and need the appropriate conditions to recover. In the period of 7-10 days following grafting, you need to carefully provide the proper conditions for healing of seedlings, i.e., making vascular collections between scion and rootstock plants. Relatively high humidity and low light are generally needed for the first 3-4 days after grafting to minimize water loss from plants.  The environmental conditions can then be adjusted during graft healing to gradually expose grafted seedlings to normal growing conditions, Dr. Zhao said.

tomato healing small

Tomato plants healing

The Cost of Grafting

“It all comes down to whether or not this makes economic sense for the growers.” If you have a small farm that produces transplants onsite you are in the best position to do grafting on your own, and that would reduce your costs, said Dr. Zhao.  The price of grafted transplants can be 3-4 times higher than the price of non-grafted transplants. This price can go up depending on the rootstock you are using, the size of the transplants, and other variables. Several seed companies in the U.S. now carry rootstock seeds and some of them also sell grafted transplants. Some nurseries in Canada have been supplying large quantities of grafted vegetable transplants to growers in the U.S., while more nurseries in the U.S. are recently getting into the grafting business including the newly established Tri-Hishtil in NC.    Currently, Dr. Zhao is exploring the feasibility of increasing plant spacing to reduce grafted transplant costs while maintaining and improving fruit yield. She is also working with economists to seek solutions to provide assistance to growers with decision making for optimizing economic returns in grafted vegetable production.


Interested? Learn More

Once you identify the diseases that you want to target, then you have to look for rootstock that will match what you are looking for. Research-based information on the preparation, use, evaluation, and purchase of grafted vegetable plants can be found at: http://vegetablegrafting.org. This vegetable grafting website came out of a multi-institutional project on vegetable grafting funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative that Dr. Zhao is involved in.

Dr. Zhao is going to provide a hands-on demonstration on how to graft tomato plants  at the Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference on October 11 in Marianna, Florida. You will be able to do your own transplant grafting under her guidance. “You can do this on your own and also get good at it but it requires practice,” she said.

To register and find out more information about the conference visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $40 and ends September 5.


Dr. Zhao’s vegetable grafting research has been possible thanks to the support of University of Florida IFAS Research Innovation Grant, USDA- Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Specialty Crop Block Grant Programs.


Photo Credit: Xin Zhao

Majumdar_Ayanavasmall

“Dr. A”

Dr. Ayanava Majumdar is an Extension Entomologist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University. His work focuses on finding practical solutions for managing insect pests that affect peanut and vegetable crops. “Dr. A,” as he is commonly known, has developed a very strong relationship with growers across Alabama. In recent years, he has gotten a lot of requests from high tunnel growers who are growing vegetables using sustainable agricultural practices. He is an expert in the field of alternative pest management tactics with emphasis on trap crops, pest exclusion, and organic insecticides.

“Protected agriculture has grown in the state for various reasons, especially due to the increasing consumer demand for local foods. Consumers are more aware and want to know who grew the food they consume,” Dr. A said.   Growers are using high tunnels to extend the season during lean times and supply local food to consumers year-round. High tunnels help farmers take advantage of two specific periods. During winters, these structures allow farmers to plant crops earlier than normal and during hot and humid summers, when pests and diseases thrive, they are able to produce crops by regulating temperatures and the amount of rain entering the system.

Protected structures however, are not exempt from pest problems. “Pest management in high tunnels can be challenging because the diseases and insects take advantage of the growing conditions inside the tunnels,” Dr A said. For example, problems with spider mites and leaffooted bugs have exploded. “These pests really love the heat and the close proximity of plants inside a tunnel. They are very good at exploring their environment and causing rapid crop loss. ” he said.

The High Tunnel Exclusion System

Dr. A is pioneering the use of high tunnel pest exclusion systems (HTPE) as a permanent or long-term solution to pest problems. High tunnels are not usually completely closed systems, as the sidewalls and sometimes the ends are open or movable for ventilation purposes. The HTPE technique basically consists on placing a 30-50% shadecloth on these sidewalls under the roll up plastic and at the ends to exclude large insects while allowing beneficial insects to pass through and provides adequate ventilation. This means that the shadecloth material covers about 25% to 33% of the whole structure. The shadecloth is relatively inexpensive and its cost compares well with some expensive organic insecticides. It’s very important to install the shadecloth correctly and seal tightly, otherwise it will not be effective.

ht2Farmers See the Benefits

Dr. A. said that he has seen dramatic reductions in numbers of leaffooted bugs, armyworm moth and other important insect pests as a result of installing an exclusion system. This technique will not exclude all the insects but the pest pressure overall decreases. “We are currently researching this system in six farms located across the state and this technique has dramatically improved the quality of the crops”, Dr. A said. “We are learning with farmers and have seen that farmers can easily recover the costs within the first season, especially with high value crops such as lettuce or tomatoes,” he said. Dr. A is a believer that his farmer partners are key to validate and spread the technology with other farmers. “After seeing this system work, farmers won’t go back to open high tunnels,” he said. On the other hand, “if farmers don’t like it, they can easily take off the shade cloth and use it elsewhere”.  Dr. A’s research findings are available in the form of videos and publications on the Alabama Vegetable IPM website.

IMG_5115smallOrganic and Alternative Systems

Dr. A is looking at providing solutions for organic and alternative systems. “Customers are asking what the farmers are spraying. The growers have to be more responsible since they are talking to very aware customers.” As a result, he has seen small farmers spending a lot of money using insecticides approved for organic production.  The exclusion technology will help, but it’s not a silver bullet. Dr. A is currently studying the release of beneficial insects in these systems. “Pest prevention is the goal in organic systems. Once the pest is there, there are very few tools you can use,” he said.

Learn from Dr. A

Dr. A. will be a speaker at the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference on October 11 in Marianna, FL. He will teach two different Integrated Pest Management (IPM) workshops. The first one will be focused on open field conventional vegetable production. The second workshop will focus on organic alternative IPM systems using the Pest Exclusion system. During the event, he will be providing free copies of the High Tunnel Crop Production Manual for New and Beginning Farmers and the Alternative Vegetable IPM Slide Chart and insect scouting guides. Don’t miss the talks!


Pandhandle SFC2To register and find out more information about the conference visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $40 and ends September 5. Your registration includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments, educational materials and transportation to farm tour locations. The event is sponsored by UF/IFAS Extension and support in part by a Florida Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant.