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Produce Safety Rule

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As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption”. These standards are commonly referred to as the Produce Safety Rule. The rule sets forth procedures, processes and practices that minimize the risks for consumers of eating raw fruit and vegetables that could be contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasitic organisms that cause foodborne illness. This rule was effective January 26, 2016 and it has different compliance dates for farms based on annual sales.

The Produce Safety Rule targets produce (fruits and vegetables) that are usually eaten raw or considered raw agricultural commodities (RACs) by FDA. Produce that is affected by the rule and that will be inspected is referred to as “covered produce”. Produce can be considered covered, not covered (if it is rarely consumed raw or grown for personal consumption by the farmer) or can be exempt if it is destined for further processing. For a thorough explanation of how produce is categorized and what the requirements are for each category see how produce is classified under the PSR Rule.

Produce farms fall into one of three major categories:

a) Not covered by the Produce Safety Rule. These are farms that sell $30,509* or less in produce annually over the last 3 years.

*This value has been adjusted for inflation for rates published in 2023. Access FSMA’s Inflation adjusted cut offs.

b) Farms eligible for a qualified exemption and modified requirements.

These farms must meet two requirements:

1). The farm must sell the majority of the food** directly to qualified end-users. Qualified end-users are the consumer of the food as long as the consumer is not a business. Internet sales to the consumer of the food are allowed. A qualified end user is also a restaurant and retail food establishment*** that is located within NC or not more than 275 miles from the farm that produced the food. Based on this, if the farm sells food to a business such as a broker, those sales should be 49% or less of total food sales.

**Food is defined as articles used for food or drink for man or animals, or articles used to make components of it. It includes seeds and beans used to grow sprouts. Examples of food include Fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy products, eggs, raw agricultural commodities for use as food or as components of food, animal feed (including pet food), food and feed ingredients, food and feed additives, dietary supplements and dietary ingredients, infant formula, beverages (including alcoholic beverages and bottled water), live food animals, bakery goods, snack foods, candy, and canned foods. Livestock and meat are both food within this definition. FDA may interpret the term “food” to “include live animals raised for food”. There are instances when live animals are sold for purposes other than for food, such as being sold as pets (e.g., dogs), pets are not considered food.As farms calculate food sales take into account that cotton, tobacco and timber are not considered food.

FDA notes that only the value of food “sold” during the year should be counted to determine the eligibility for the qualified exemption. As farms calculate food sales take into account that cotton, tobacco and timber are not considered food.

***A “retail food establishment” is an establishment that sells food products directly to consumers as its primary function. A “retail food establishment” includes grocery stores, convenience stores, and vending machine locations.
2). The total food** sales for the farm must be less than $610,182* annually (average of the last 3 years, starting in 2020).
The two requirements that these farms must fulfill are:
1. Farms must keep financial records to prove average annual food sales are under $610,182 for the last three years.
2. The labeling requirement consists of including the name and complete business address of the farm where the produce was grown either on the label of the produce or to display the same information at the point-of-purchase. The labeling requirement became effective January 20, 2020.
As long as a farm satisfies the requirements listed above or FDA has not withdrawn a qualified exemption then the farm is compliant with the Produce Safety Rule.
FDA will withdraw a qualified exemption if produce has been grown, harvested, packed or held under such conditions that it is unfit for food or if it has been prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions where it can be contaminated with filth or have been rendered injurious to health.
For more details on Qualified Exemptions and modified requirements and templates to do your own calculations see Requirements for Small and Medium Scale Farms.
c) Covered farms.
These farms did not meet the conditions set for a qualified exemption and have to comply with the provisions set for “covered farms”. These are farms that sold more than $610,182* in food sales (from 2020 to 2022) or that even though on average they sold less than $610,182, the majority of the food sales were not to qualified end users during that period of time.
According to FDA a qualified end-user, with respect to a food, means the consumer of the food (where the term consumer does not include a business); or a restaurant or retail food establishment that is located: (i) In the same State or the same Indian reservation as the farm that produced the food; or (ii) Not more than 275 miles from such farm.

Covered farms need to have at least one representative attend a Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Grower training by the respective compliance date. This is a one-day training that provides an overview of the Produce Safety Rule and good agricultural practices. See more information about PSA Trainings in North Carolina.

Covered farms must follow the standards set for worker health and hygiene, agricultural water, biological soil amendments, domesticated and wild animals, equipment, tools, sanitation and growing, harvesting, packing and holding activities.

Compliance dates for “Covered Farms”.


All other businesses

(Sales over $500K)

Small businesses

($250K-$500K Produce sales)

Very small


($25K-$250K Produce sales)

Most provisions in the Produce Safety Rule 1/26/2018 1/28/2019 1/27/2020
For water related regulations outlined in the PS Rule 1/26/2022 1/26/2023 1/26/2024
Sprouts 1/26/2017 1/26/2018 1/28/2019

Overview of the Standards in the Produce Safety Rule for “covered farms”.

1. Worker Training and Health and Hygiene.

  • Establishes qualification and training requirements for all personnel who handle (contact) covered produce or food-contact surfaces and their supervisors.
  • Requires documentation of required training and corrective actions; and
  • Establishes hygienic practices and other measures needed to prevent persons, including visitors, from contaminating produce with microorganisms of public health significance.

2. Agricultural Water.

  • Requires that all agricultural water must be safe and of adequate sanitary quality for its intended use. Agricultural water is defined in part as water that is intended to, or is likely to, contact the harvestable portion of covered produce or food-contact surfaces;
  • Establishes requirements for inspection, maintenance, and certain other actions related to the use of agricultural water, water sources, and water distribution systems associated with growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of covered produce.
  • If a farm chooses to treat agricultural water to meet relevant requirements for its intended use, establish requirements related to methods of treatment and monitoring such treatment;
  • Establishes specific requirements for the microbial quality of agricultural water that is used for certain specified purposes, including provisions requiring periodic analytical testing of such water (with exemptions provided for use of public water supplies, under certain specified conditions, and treated water), and requiring certain actions to be taken when such water is not safe or of adequate sanitary quality for its intended use and/or does not meet the microbial quality requirements AND provide for the use of alternative requirements for certain provisions under certain conditions; and
  • Requires certain records, including documentation of inspection findings, water testing results, scientific data or information relied on to support the adequacy of water treatment methods, treatment monitoring results, scientific data or information relied on to support microbial die-off or removal rates or any permitted alternatives to requirements, time intervals or log reductions applied, and corrective actions.

3. Biological Soil Amendments.

  • Establishes requirements for determining the status of a biological soil amendment of animal origin as treated or untreated, and for their handling, conveying, and storing.
  • Prohibits the use of human waste for growing covered produce except in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for such uses or equivalent regulatory requirements;
  • Establishes requirements for treatment of biological soil amendments of animal origin with scientifically valid, controlled, biological, physical and/or chemical processes that satisfy certain specific microbial standards, including examples of such processes;
  • Establishes application requirements and minimum application intervals for untreated and treated biological soil amendments of animal origin; and
  • Requires certain records, including documentation from suppliers of treated biological soil amendments of animal origin, documentation that process controls were achieved, and corrective actions.

4. Domesticated and Wild Animals.

  • If there is a reasonable probability that grazing animals, working animals, or animal intrusion will contaminate covered produce, require measures to assess as needed relevant areas during growing and, if significant evidence of potential contamination is found, take measures reasonably necessary to assist later during harvest when the farm must identify, and not harvest, covered produce that is reasonably likely to be contaminated with a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard.

5. Equipment, Tools, and Buildings.

  • Establishes requirements related to equipment and tools that contact covered produce and instruments and controls (including equipment used in transport), buildings, domesticated animals in and around fully-enclosed buildings, pest control, hand-washing and toilet facilities, sewage, trash, plumbing, and animal excreta; and
  • Requires certain records related to the date and method of cleaning or sanitizing equipment used in growing operations for sprouts, and in covered harvesting, packing, or holding activities, and corrective actions.


  • Establishes scope of applicability of sprout provisions;
  • Establishes measures that must be taken related to seeds or beans for sprouting
  • Establishes measures that must be taken for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of sprouts;
  • Requires testing the growing environment for Listeria species (Listeria spp.) or Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) and testing each production batch of spent sprout irrigation water or sprouts for Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7, Salmonella species (Salmonella spp.) and, under certain conditions, other pathogen(s), and taking appropriate follow-up actions; and
  • Requires certain records, including documentation of treatment of seeds or beans for sprouting, a written environmental monitoring plan and sampling plan, test results, certain test methods used, and corrective actions.

All the documents and information from FDA pertaining to the Produce Safety Rule can be found in the FDA FSMA website.

Last updated: May 8, 2023

Written By

Elena Rogers, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionElena RogersArea Specialized Agent, Agriculture - Fresh Produce Food Safety (Western NC) Call Elena Email Elena Serves 49 Counties and EBCIBased out of Horticultural Science
Page Last Updated: 6 months ago
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