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Proposed update to FDA water rule aims to reduce risks of foodborne illness

Farmer on a tractor in a field
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Lara Gale
The water rule is one component of the produce safety rule, and the Produce Safety Rule is a component of the Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed in 2011. The Produce Safety Rule establishes science based minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. The standards encompass growing, harvesting, packing and distribution of fresh produce. And this proposed new rule is specifically about irrigation water. So there was previously a rule about irrigation water that was part of this, but they've updated it to make it a lot easier for farmers to implement.

Nick Porath
What are some of the recent changes that have been made to the rule?

Lara Gale
The new rule focuses on systems based agricultural water assessments. Previously, the rule was very focused on testing. And then if if water was not in compliance, mitigating the problems that were making it so the water wasn't in compliance. But now, it can easily be adapted to a wide variety of irrigation systems uses and practices. And the goal is to create standards that effectively reduce the risk of spreading microbial contamination, which can lead to preventable foodborne illness, which is a significant public health problem.

Nick Porath
What are some long term effects that you're hoping this change can accomplish?

Lara Gale
The hope is that we can reduce incidences of things like you've probably heard of the spinach contamination recently. And in periodically, you'll hear about leafy greens, you know, lettuces, there was a big onion outbreak recently. So the hope is by addressing system wide potential problems, you know, making sure that for example, animals that are upstream of the irrigation source that any of animal poo or anything like that can be channeled elsewhere, just making sure that there's not contaminants running into the irrigation source.

Nick Porath
Is there any final thoughts or resources that you'd like to share?

Lara Gale
Yeah, so growers are particularly encouraged to visit Producesafety.utah.gov. There is educational material there. There's information about upcoming trainings, which there is a training coming up on March 23. And growers, whether they're covered by the Produce Safety rule or not, are encouraged to attend that training because they'll learn a lot about science based best practices for product safety generally, and we will cover this new rule. Also, they're encouraged to take a look at the news tab and see how they can read the new proposed rule and they can comment on it before it's published in April.

Nicholas Porath is a Logan native and music lover. He recently graduated from USU with a degree in broadcast journalism. It was while studying journalism that he found his niche and newfound love for radio. He first started out as an intern behind the scenes and found his way to the control room where he now hosts Here & Now on Monday through Friday from 11-1. Nick is also the producer for DEBUNKED.