Researchers aim to simplify ag water requirements

Researchers aim to simplify ag water requirements

A new research paper attempts to reduce the confusion over agriculture water requirements in the Produce Safety Rule.

Cornell University’s Produce Safety Alliance published the paper, seeking to explain complex federal food safety rules and develop new ways to assess agricultural water use, according to a news release.

“Water used during the production of fresh fruits and vegetables represents a potential pathway for contamination with human pathogens,” Gretchen Wall, Cornell’s Produce Safety Alliance coordinator, said in the release. Wall is the lead author of “Key Outcomes From a Collaborative Summit on Agricultural Water Standards for Fresh Produce.”

The work, according to the authors, resulted from a two-day national meeting last year of growers, scientists, produce industry members and regulators on how to improve the water provisions of the Produce Safety Rule.

In the produce rule, Wall said that microbial quality standards and testing requirements were established for when agricultural water makes contact with produce. However, some of the provisions in the regulation were difficult to understand and challenging to put in place.

“The United States is a big place with many different water sources and systems,” Betsy Bihn, senior extension associate and director of the Produce Safety Alliance, said in the release.

The authors said training and outreach delivered at the local level, supported at the national level by technical experts, will be needed to implement ag water requirements in the produce rule.

The FDA estimates that water testing may cost producers about $37 million annually. For individual small farms, that could mean spending about $1,000 each year for testing. To keep testing costs reasonable, for example, the release said some have suggested allowing multiple farms that draw water from the same canal or river to share representative samples. 



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