On July 31, the FDA issued draft guidance on three categories of produce:  tomatoes, leafy greens and melons.  Comments on the drafts are due, according to Hyman, Phelps & McNamara P.C.’s FDA Law Blog, by November 3 at www.regulations.gov using docket numbers FDA-2009-D-0346 (tomatoes), FDA-2009-D-0347 (melons), or FDA-2009-0348 (leafy greens).  They may also be submitted directly to the FDA at Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852, using the same docket numbers to identify comments.

The purpose of the guidance is to provide advice on the FDA’s current thinking of the best practices to minimize contamination, comply with legal requirements and identify and stop outbreaks as soon as possible.  The guidance is intended to cover all stages of food production and handling up to the final retail sale of either raw or prepared foods. 

The tomato guidance is particularly detailed.  It covers everything from selecting the field to grow, including assessing the uses of nearby land, to detailed hygienic recommendations for those with access to the fields, to harvesting practices, including documentation to facilitate product tracing, to packing and repacking, storage and transportation, and preparation by food service providers.  A special section covers greenhouse production. 

The guidance is based on practices developed by the produce industry with the assistance of the FDA, but does not necessarily agree with the practices used in the industry.  Consider this discussion of "top icing" of melons.  The FDA notes, "Melons are typically top iced after cooling as a means of temperature control during transport and distribution."  The first recommendation, though, is to ditch the practice entirely. 

FDA recommends:

  • Employing alternative means of keeping melons cool because top icing is not particularly effective in cooling or keeping melons cold.

It will be interesting to see the comments and how the FDA responds to them as the process continues.