The Food and Drug Administration today published a draft final guidance document aimed at preventing microbial contamination during the processing of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. The action comes as state and federal agencies seek to tighten food safety practices for fresh, ready-to-eat products in the wake of recent outbreaks of illness caused by Escherichicia coli O157:H7 on spinach and lettuce.
The guidance document suggests that fresh-cut processors "consider a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system." HACCP systems have been mandatory for the meat industry for many years. The Guide also recommends that processors encourage the adoption of safe practices by others throughout the supply chain.
The announcement came today just before FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, was to testify at a Senate agriculture committee hearing on food safety. The hearing was held in Madison, Wisconsin. But, the current version of the guidance document will not be made final until the White House Office of Management and Budget completes an authorization step required by the Paperwork Reduction Act, and the agency announces that the guidance is final, according to an FDA statement.
House agricultural appropriations subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D.- Conn., was quick to criticize the FDA's voluntary guidance as "telling processors what they already know."
"Stating the obvious is a meaningless activity and it does not respond to the industry's request for strong, federal regulations critical to restoring consumer confidence in the fresh produce they purchase," she said in a statement.