FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety: Understanding the Importance of Water Testing Requirements

Last month U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials notified produce industry leaders that there would be a review of the Produce Safety Rule’s water quality requirements to address industry concerns, resulting in a likely delay in compliance.

As of now, the FDA has responded by ensuring the industry that while the water testing requirements are a pricier investment, they save considerable time and cost when it comes to the consequences of foodborne illnesses. Dr. Samir Assar, director of the Division of Produce Safety, explained that the FDA “anticipates that the final rule will bring about a reduction of over 60 percent in the risk of contamination from agricultural water, or a reduction of about 20 percent in the total number of foodborne illnesses associated with produce, with a corresponding reduction of $477 million in the costs of foodborne illnesses.” The cost to produce growers, on the other hand, has been estimated by the FDA to be “approximately $37 million dollars annually, which represents an average cost to a single farm of approximately $1,058 per year,” according to Dr. Assar.

So how did the FDA establish these water quality and testing requirements for irrigation water? In short, the agency has looked to scientific research and the EPA for help determining water quality criteria. Dr. Assar explained that the Safety Produce Rule and its water quality requirements stem, in part, from the EPA’s recreational water criteria because epidemiological studies have shown that people get sick after swallowing recreational water that is contaminated with feces. The types of water used for agricultural water are diverse, but agricultural water is estimated to be the most important pathway of contamination, which is why the presence of generic E. coli is a concern. E. coli is a consistent indicator of fecal contamination, and increased fecal contamination heightens the likelihood that disease-causing microorganisms are present.

While these new regulations may appear daunting to produce growers, it is important to remember that there are professionals who are well-versed in microbial determinations in water that are prepared to help. Babcock Laboratories has been certified to test for microbial contaminants in water for 90 years and in that time we have helped numerous clients—big and small, public and private—comply with regulatory requirements. Moreover, we offer testing services that are specific to the food and beverage industry. We are certain that our experience and team of knowledgeable and friendly professionals will help relieve some of the burden associated with understanding and complying with the water quality and testing requirements outlined in the FSMA final rule.

To read the FDA’s response to concerns regarding the establishment of requirements for water quality and testing, click here. To learn more about Babcock Labs’ food and beverage testing services, click here.