Thursday, May 9, 2013

Food Safety Issues Related to Flooded Fields

Food Safety Issues Related to Flooded Fields

Hello vegetable growers!  You got a blog posting yesterday regarding flooded fields and possible plant pathogens; today's posting focuses on food safety issues.   This in from Diane Ducharme our Extension Associate:

There is another issue here to consider safety.   FDA issued guidance effective immediately on flooded crops and fields.  While crops are not in the fields, the soil has been flooded and I have take only this section out of the full guidance for reference below.  Full document can be found at:

Essentially, it says to do a field assessment using the outlined bullets below.  I have bolded several of these of particular attention.    The FDA's guidance documents reflect the agency's current thinking ,on a topic and should be viewed only as recommendations, unless specific regulatory or statutory requirements are cited.  The use of the word should in Agency guidances means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required.   These guidances  do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities. 

V. Assessment of Flood-affected Fields before Replanting

FDA recommends not replanting in flooded fields if flood waters have not receded and the soil has not sufficiently dried.  In the Draft Guidance to Industry to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Leafy Greens (Ref. 1), FDA recommends the following assessment for formerly flooded production ground:
  • Assessing field history and crop selection.
  • Determining the time interval between the flooding event, crop planting, and crop harvest.
  • Determining the source of flood waters (e.g., drainage canal, river, or irrigation canal) and whether there are significant upstream potential contributors of human pathogens.
  • Allowing soils to dry sufficiently and be reworked prior to subsequently planting crops on formerly flooded production ground.
  • Sampling previously flooded soil for the presence of microorganisms of significant public health concern or appropriate indicator microorganisms. Note: Microbial soil sampling can provide valuable information regarding relative risks, but sampling by itself does not guarantee that all raw agricultural commodities grown within the formerly flooded production area are free of the presence of human pathogens.  
The waiting period before growers can replant depends on conditions such as temperature, weather, and soil type.  Currently, FDA has not completed studies to determine the length of waiting time that is generally considered safe for replanting.  State, industry, and university extension specialists have recommended a 30-60 day waiting period and/or soil testing prior to replanting to (Ref. 12, 13, 14, 15). While this time period is generally considered sufficient for fecal contamination to decline, chemical contamination, if present, may continue to remain in the flood-affected soil (Ref. 12).
And now you have the current recommendations, not laws from FDA on flooded fields concerning Food Safety concerns."

Do keep in mind that if you have products in the flooded fields- (lettuce, greens, etc) that were contaminated by the flood waters, that these items MUST not be harvested and sold.  Food safety is a very critical and hot button topic.   If you have any questions contact your local Horticulture Extension Agent.

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