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Food Safety Rules for Fruit & Vegetable Growers: FAQ

Updated January 16, 2019
Professional headshot of Rhoda Burrows

Rhoda Burrows

Professor & SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

It seems rules and guidelines for growing fresh produce safely are constantly changing, as new laws and regulations are implemented each year. First there were GAPS (Good Agricultural Practices), and third party certification, with required record-keeping. Organic certification had a different set of requirements and records. Now there is the new Food and Drug Administration’s Produce Rule, developed after the U.S. Congress mandated, via the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) new oversight of fresh produce growers (with some exceptions for small-scale growers marketing locally.) This Act covers only produce that is “commonly consumed raw” such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, etc. Lists are available, in case a grower is not certain whether a given vegetable falls under the rule (asparagus does not, but green beans and summer squash do). Following are a few of the most frequently questions we receive from South Dakota growers, and answers based on current knowledge and guidelines.

Common Questions

What do I legally have to do to market my fresh produce at a farmers market in South Dakota?

You will need a sales tax license for South Dakota, and submit the sales taxes to the state. If you use a scale, you will need to have one that can be calibrated and certified by SD Weights and Measures. Beyond that,

  • If your total produce sales are less than $26,000 per year, you do not fall under any produce regulations. You are still responsible for the safety of your produce, but there is no paperwork that you need to file.

  • If your total produce sales are over $26,000 and $500,000 per year, but over 50% of your “food” sales (and that includes grain and livestock) are at South Dakota farmers markets, restaurants, or otherwise directly to consumers, you need to keep receipts to verify the destination of your produce. You also need to display your farm name, address, and contact information at the farmers market, or on produce containers delivered to the consumer. Again, you are responsible for the safety of your produce, and we recommend you learn about produce safety through a GAPs or other food safety training, but it is not required by the state or federal government.

  • If your sales are over $500,000 per year, or more than 50% of your “food” sales are to wholesale markets, you fall under the full FSMA regulations. The rules are being phased in starting in 2018, and you need to take an official Produce Rule training as soon as possible to learn all that you will need to do and record. Contact SDSU Extension for assistance.

What all does the FSMA Produce Rule cover?

The rule is very comprehensive. A major section covers water source (wells and surface water require regular testing; surface water cannot be used post-harvest). Other sections cover “biological amendments” (manure, compost, compost tea); domestic animals and wildlife intrusions; worker health and safety; harvest and post-harvest handling and storage. In addition to the guidelines themselves, all of the above require detailed record-keeping to verify that regulations were followed.

My farm is certified organic. Are the records I keep for that certification sufficient for FSMA rules?

The record-keeping you have in place for organic certification will certainly be helpful, but you will need to add some aspects. A publication is being prepared to help you with this, although if you take the FSMA training, you can see for yourself what you may need to add or alter in your current system.

I can’t keep birds from flying overhead and dropping on my produce in the field. What do I do?

A similar question is “Do I have to destroy my produce if a couple of deer walk through my field?” The FDA realizes that farms exist in the midst of nature, and does NOT require farms to take measures to exclude animals from outdoor growing areas, or to destroy animal habitat. The strategy instead is to recognize the food safety risks that animals might incur – primarily feces. Growers should walk through their fields during the season and at harvest and mark any areas with feces. The feces can be carefully removed, being certain to remove all feces, along with crop or soil that may have been contacted, using a covered container. Produce in the near vicinity (the distance depends on the crop, as well as whether there has been rainfall that might’ve splashed or spread the contamination) should not be harvested. All workers should be trained to watch for and know how to deal with contamination.

What if my field flooded?

If flooding occurs, the timing and extent are critical. If the flood occurs more than six months before harvest, and the water was NOT known to be heavily contaminated, such as by a feedlot or with chemical contamination, the crop can be harvested and used. Within six months of harvest, if water all originated from pooling within the field, there is much less risk of contamination and it is not classified as a flood. If water from outside the field floods the field, and the harvestable portion of the crop was in direct contact, the produce is considered adulterated by the FDA and cannot be used as human food. If the harvested portions of the plants, for example peppers, were above flooding, risk is much lower, and the grower should use good judgment about the probably of splashing, as well as of the source of the water.

Additional Resources:

You are also welcome to contact Dr. Rhoda Burrows for assistance with produce safety concerns.

Thanks to South Dakota Department of Agriculture for support through a Specialty Crops Block Grant to help fund food safety education and assistance for producers!