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U.S.: Vermont produce farms adjusting to new Federal food safety rules

Back in 2011, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, in order to cut down on foodborne illnesses in the produce industry. This law just went into effect on Vermont's larger farms on January 26.

Compared to meat and dairy, the produce industry has been largely unregulated up until now. Vegetable farmer Pete Johnson: “We've had zero actual regulation related to food safety until this month, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.”

Vegetable farming has been a growing part of the Vermont economy, as consumers demand more and more locally sourced food. Between 1997 and 2012, the number of vegetable farms in Vermont more than doubled and sales over that same period grew from about $6.5 million to more than $21 million.

Johnson is already doing a lot of the best practices covered in the new law, and he says if Vermont wants to grow more food and ship it out of state, it makes sense to improve food safety standards. "I started doing this 20 years ago, and I got zero guidance on how to wash salad greens, pack them and sell them. I learned from other farmers. I didn't have anybody talk to me about food safety at all. I know plenty of people who are doing it in a muddy back hole for decades on their farms. ... Bringing this stuff up a little bit standard-wise is a very good thing, and having it affect smaller farms too is a good thing." reported on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calling the Food Safety Modernization Act the most sweeping update to the nation's food safety program in more than 70 years. The new rules require a whole new level of record keeping and verification, and they address things like water quality, hygiene and temperature control in an attempt to cut down on the spread of pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria.

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