According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.”The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes these numbers are, for the most part, preventable. That is the primary reason for changing laws; the first changes this sweeping in decades, concerning food safety. The FDA believes it canprevent two million illnesses per year but how do these changes impact small businesses today?
What are the New Rules?
Thefirst new FDA rule requires farmers (small business food producers and manufacturers) to develop formal plans that prevent fruits and vegetables they produce from causing foodborne illnesses. It goes on to require them to establish a plan of action for correcting problems that do arise with the foods they produce. The second rule has established specific safety standards that apply to producing and harvesting fruits and vegetables on farms. Larger farms must comply within 26 months of the rules final publication. Smaller farms will be granted additional time to comply with some requirements – specifically those related to water quality.
The primaryareas of risk the new rules address include:
- Animals (domestic and wild)
- Equipment, tools, and buildings
- Biological Soil Amendments (also referred to as “Living Soils”)
What do FDA Rules Mean for Small Business Food Producers, Manufacturers, and Farmers?
Whether you own and operate a small farm in Wyoming or a larger farm in Ohio, small farmers and large farming conglomerates will all be responsible for taking certain precautions against food contamination. These precautions include requiring workers to wash their hands before handling food, ensuring irrigation water is clean, and keeping animals out of the fields. The good news, particularly for small local farmers, is that these rules only apply to fruits and vegetables representing the greatest contamination risks.
The FDA believes these changes, specifically, will help the agency movefrom taking a reactive role to becoming a proactive solution – at least when it comes to foodborne illnesses. The good news is that many small farms and businesses within the farming community have been asking for changes like these for quite some time. These new rules do level the playing field among farmers to some degree. However, there are some exemptions for most of the requirements, specifically for farms that have sales averaging less than $500,00 each year for the past three – after adjustments for inflation – and farms with food sales of less than $25,000 during the three years prior to the last three.
While change is often terrifying, the changes the FDA proposes are for the good of the farming community as well as the good of consumers. There will be a learning curve, but once the plans are in place, the result should be safer food for consumers and lower risks for farmers and the small businesses that support them both. Of course, you should always consult your attorney and insurance agent to see how these new rules will specifically affect your business.