Fruit and Vegetable Producers Should Consider New Voluntary Approach to Food Safety Certification
Fruit and vegetable producers of all sizes now have the option of participating in a voluntary food safety certification program in Ohio. The Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement (OPMA) offers producers food safety standards and an opportunity to attain food safety certification through third party inspections. Born from growing concerns about fruit and vegetable contamination outbreaks, the OPMA takes an aggressive yet voluntary approach to addressing food safety risk.
The OPMA is the first “agricultural marketing agreement” developed under a new law in Ohio. The agricultural marketing agreement law allows agricultural commodities to create voluntary marketing programs to expand or improve the market for their commodity. Marketing programs may promote the sale and use of products, develop new uses and markets for products; improve methods of distributing products to consumers or standardize the quality of products for specific uses. To create a voluntary marketing program, the commodity group must obtain the approval of both the Ohio Department of Agriculture and producers within the commodity group. A summary of the agricultural marketing agreement law is available here.
The voluntary advisory board that governs OPMA is preparing the program for final approval, which should occur within the next few months. Producers may begin participating in the program now, however.
OPMA offers producers three levels or “tiers” of food safety certification based on types and scale of produce sales. All tiers require membership in OPMA, annual training and demonstration of the core food safety standards via an inspection. The core standards address water quality, inputs and composting, traceback and good handling practices. A farm that completes the certification process may market itself as an OPMA certified farm and use the OPMA logo for marketing purposes.
While OPMA will certainly provide marketing advantages, fruit and vegetable producers should consider the program’s legal benefits. Adopting the recommended research-based food safety standards, participating in regular training and passing an OPMA inspection will reduce the risk of a food safety incident and resulting liability. Given recent outbreaks resulting in sickness and deaths from produce consumption, food safety is a serious issue for produce farmers. OPMA certification gives producers an opportunity to minimize exposure to food safety liability.
Another benefit for producers is the voluntary, self-regulating nature of the program. High participation in OPMA indicates commodity willingness to address food safety practices and ensure safe food products. A sound voluntary program with high participation rates may negate the need for regulatory action or meet requirements of the still-evolving federal Food Safety Modernization Act.
For more information the Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement, visit www.opma.us.