On the Road with Mike Taylor, Day 4: Looking to the Future

This is the fourth in a series of blogs by Deputy FDA Commissioner Michael Taylor on his multi-state tour to see agricultural practices first-hand and to discuss the produce-safety standards that FDA is proposing. 

By: Michael R. Taylor 

We did a lot of talking and listening on the fourth day – Wednesday, Aug. 14 – of our tour of the Pacific Northwest. It was an excellent day, as my colleagues and I spent most of it in a six-hour listening session in Yakima, Wash.

Karen Killinger, an associate professor at Washington State University and the University of Idaho, speaks to growers, representatives of the food industry and others at a listening session to discuss proposed produce safety regulations. Seated on the panel are from left: Mike Taylor, Samir Assar, Erick Snellman and Travis Minor of FDA.

There were roughly 175 people at the listening session, many of whom are professionally involved in managing food safety on behalf of the area’s growers. The questions and issues they raised were often technical and very specific to key points in the proposed produce-safety regulations. It was an invigorating discussion.

In the late afternoon we visited more farmland and packing operations, as we did on the fifth and final day – Thursday, Aug. 15. On both days, we saw a diverse array of crops that include apples, pears, onions, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, peaches and nectarines. We learned more about different irrigation systems and approaches to using water for both frost protection and to prevent scalding from exposure to the sun.

What we’re learning about the diversity of practices will help us get our produce rules right when we finalize them down the road; it also reminds us of the importance of taking a collaborative approach to implementing the rules. The rules will provide a common food-safety accountability, but as we implement the rules, we’ll need to maintain the spirit of partnership embodied in our Northwest experience.

The Pacific Northwest tour included a visit to the packing house at Valley Fruit in Wapato, Wash.

What this entails is working with our state partners, extension services and the produce industry to provide education, training and technical assistance to help farmers comply with the rules and, most importantly, move toward the shared goal of food safety and consumer confidence in food safety. As we did with the development of the proposed rules, implementation must take into account the diversity among growers and commodities, and the importance of working with the produce community as a whole.

Together, we’ll get this right and continue toward the long-term goal of keeping our produce safe for consumers in this country and around the world.

Keep watching this space. I will be filing more FDA Voice blogs next week to keep you up to date on what I learn in my travels to New England. 

For more photos of my multi-region tour, visit Flickr.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

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