For farmers who sell fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets, food safety will be business as usual, despite the federal Food and Drug Administration's new proposed rules governing produce.
This is because most market farmers are exempt from the rules, just as they are from the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Under the act, farms are exempt if they average less than $500,000 in food sales annually (for the last three years) and sell most of their food directly to consumers, restaurants and stores within the state or 275 miles or less from the farm.
Praised as the most sweeping reform of the nation's food safety laws in more than 70 years, the act takes aim at preventing food from becoming contaminated with pathogens that can sicken or kill people, instead of responding to foodborne outbreaks after they've happened.
Fresh produce is of special concern, says the agency, because people are eating increasing amounts of it, in part because public health agencies are recommending fruits and vegetables for their nutritional benefit.
According to a recently released report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, produce such as fruits and vegetables accounted for 46 percent of the 4,589 foodborne illness outbreaks linked to a specific commodity between 1998 and 2008. At the top of the list were leafy greens, which were responsible for the most illnesses, many of which were caused by noroviruses, the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis--an infection of the stomach and intestines--in the United States.
FDA's proposed rules for produce cover almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cherries, citrus (such as clementine, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mandarin, oranges, tangerines), cucumbers, garlic, grapes, green beans, guava, herbs (such as basil, chives, cilantro, mint, oregano, and parsley), honeydew, kiwifruit, lettuce, mangos, mushrooms, nectarines, onions, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, peas, peppers (such as bell and hot), pineapple, plums, radishes, raspberries, scallions, snow peas, spinach, sprouts (such as alfalfa and mung bean), strawberries, summer squash (such as patty pan, yellow and zucchini), tomatoes, walnuts, watercress and watermelon.