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Final text of FSMA revised rule for pre-harvest water is released

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator, food safety

On May 6th the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a final rule on agricultural water for pre-harvest water in the FSMA Produce Safety Rule. To see the full announcement and language of the rule, go to the FDA website. 

First, remember that the Produce Safety Rule only applies to some fruit and vegetable farms, but the rule provides guidance on how to ensure the production of safe produce for all growers. To determine your status under the PSR, see this website.

Second, the rules about agricultural water only apply to water that is being used on covered commodities and that is likely or intended to touch the harvestable portion of the crop or food contact surfaces. 

As a reminder, water is broken into both pre and postharvest water for the purposes of the FSMA Rule.

What is different in the revised version of the FSMA Rule on Agricultural Water?

  • Definition: Pre-harvest water is water used prior to harvest, generally for irrigation purposes or for crop protection. This is different from the requirements for postharvest water, which were not changed. 
  • If you recall from the initial FSMA curriculum, growers were required to test their agricultural water for generic E. coli and to create a Microbial Water Quality Profile, or MWQP with those results. This was seen as cumbersome and too technically difficult for some growers.
  • In December 2021, the FDA released proposed revisions to the pre-harvest agricultural water requirements substantially to move away from the quantitative criteria and towards a more qualitative assessment of the water.
  • The revised rule requires growers to conduct a Agricultural Water Assessment (AgWA) instead of relying on testing the water. FDA provided a summary of the AgWA here.
  • The AgWA is a holistic assessment of risks to water used on the farm including risks from nearby septic systems, runoff from animal operations, faulty wells and other infrastructure that might pose a risk to your water quality that you use for pre-harvest uses.  
  • While testing can be used an an input to the AgWA under some circumstances, covered farms are required to include all the information that they will gather as a part of an AgWA in their decisions about their water use.

Exemptions from conducting an Agricultural Water Assessment:

  • If the water source is groundwater that meets the testing and quality criteria for drinking water (meaning no detectable Generic E. coli in 100/ml) an AgWA is not required.  
  • If the water is received from a public water system or supply that meets requirements established in the rule an AgWA is not required.

    Note: to use these exemptions y
    ou must be reasonably certain that the quality of the water will not change prior to the water being used as agricultural water.

When will farms have to comply with the revised Subpart E rules?  

The compliance dates for this section will begin 9 months after the effective date.

Where does this leave growers now? 

For now, continue to learn more about the quality of your agricultural water to reduce the potential that it might become a source of contamination of your fresh fruits and vegetables. If you like, you can still test that water for E. coli to understand the quality of the water, and use that information in combination with an Agricultural Water Assessment. The FDA has created an Agricultural Water Assessment builder that you can find here.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, UMN Extension, national partners and the FDA will be releasing additional trainings and information on the AgWA and how to comply with the revised rule soon.

For more information on testing water on your farm.

For more information on the proposed updates to the pre-harvest water standards

If you have questions related to if your farm is subject to the Produce Safety Rule, please contact MDA's Produce Safety program. 

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