The Question: Could small agricultural operations compete with the 'big guys' once the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, was implemented?
The Answer: Nobody knew, but those passionate about public health and the success of small farms, food hubs and food makers were on a mission to ensure the farms were would remain in operation and the FDA understood the life of a small farmer as they transitioned from the medical world into the primary fresh produce industry Regulatory Body.
As a result, Artisan Food Solutions (AFS) was founded in 2010 by Patricia Tripp, a chemist and restauranteur. Still contemplating the need to differentiate between organic and non-organic (conventional) produce, and defeated no longer being allowed to buy meat for her business direct from the farm, she knew there was work to do to protect the small operations who grew, raised and processed their food ethically, for their community.
Covered under FSMA are are commercial farms, packing operations, and food processing facilities, but at this time it was not clear what would be expected of the small operations. With limited capacity, the concern was they did not have the time or resources to maintain stringent food safety regulations.
The proposed rules had a lot of gray areas that were not scientifically driven. With a focus on microbial contamination prevention, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) unfamiliarity of farm operations could potentially close the small operations making it impossible to scale operations to meet new consumer demands. The implementation of FSMA was dramatically delayed to gather appreciate science claims as well as to take the time to listen to community and advocacy organizations about their concerns. The FDA did want the small agricultural businesses to thrive as well.
Patricia was on a mission to not only have a voice in the Food Law, but to ease the anxiety of the small operations providing food safety education in layman's terms. Through national advocacy groups, academia, USDA, FDA, State Department's of Agriculture, food safety standard owners, buyers, non-profit entities another stakeholders, Patricia advocated for reality and scientific evidence.
During this journey, Patricia quickly realized that the growers had other needs. The fact was food safety compliance would not benefit the grower if there was no buyer committment. She continued on her journey working with academia and stakeholder initiatives to create programs that would connect growers to buyers, as well as prepare a grower to meet or exceed industry standard for packing and holding fresh produce.
The ultimate goal was to provide the farmers, food hubs and food makers with the education, tools and partnerships for success. Buyer-driven food safety trickled down from the large farms to the small farms during this period as the large operations FSMA compliance implementation was phased, beginning with the entities with the highest # of employees or gross sales.
Through delivery of hands-on wholesale readiness workshops growers learned proper ways to wash (or not to wash), pack and store their produce for larger markets. Through delivery of buyer-driven focused food safety workshops and one-on-one technical support, growers and food hubs began to understand the liability and marketing benefits of having a food safety program in place. The process simply had to be streamlined to the operations current processes and recorded for verification purposes.
Through the years, Patricia has co-developed several resources to assist small operations with the interpretation of food safety standards, standard-specific food safety program implementation and FSMA Good Manufacturing Practices.
These guidance manuals are referenced above and may be helpful in answering any questions you have pertaining to Good Agricultural Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, or others.
If you are in need of a customizable template to write and implement your food safety management system, you are in the right place. The template packages are Standard specific and include everything you need to implement your program.
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