Food safety is critical in food distribution, and should be a clear focus as new local food storage and distribution measures and infrastructure are implemented. Food safety regulations at all levels of government target the distribution link in the food chain. Complying with regulations designed to protect food safety can be complicated, but it is an essential part of doing business in the food system.
FSMA will have a significant impact on food safety processes, procedures, and requirements for eligible farmers across the Commonwealth. Even those who are exempt from FSMA due to farm size or aggregation criteria will need to be familiar with these regulations, as large buyers will likely rely upon these standards for purchasing.
Food producers, distributors, and retailers understand the need to comply with relevant municipal health codes but report that regulations and enforcement vary from community to community, and that interpretation of regulations is inconsistent, leading to less efficient and ultimately less sustainable operations.
Recommendation 5.1: Strengthen the Commonwealth Quality Program (CQP).
Action 5.1.1: Expand the role and purpose of CQP as a sustainability program and a food safety certification and regulatory certainty program.
Action 5.1.2: Gather data and modify key program requirements to increase the local use of CQP as a market access tool for wholesalers and retailers.
Action 5.1.3: Increase participation in the CQP program, through outreach and education, for direct-market farms to ensure they employ and maintain the same food safety and environmental practice requirements as farms required to do so for market access.
Action 5.1.4: Establish a CQP technical steering committee with members of MDAR, MassDEP, DCR, DMF, UMass Extension, and other identified State and federal partners to maintain program sector requirements and provide timely science-based updates to the program as well as emerging regulatory inclusion.
Action 5.1.5: Develop resources to provide food safety regulation information, technical assistance, and training including through MDAR, DPH, and UMass Extension.
Action 5.1.6: Adopt CQP as Massachusetts’ farm food safety standard to meet all federal requirements.
Action 5.1.7: Establish a system of certification pre-audits that are available for producers prior to official audit.
Action 5.1.8: Ensure that MDAR has personnel resources to conduct audits or contract with third parties to audit.
Recommendation 5.2: Ensure local regulation (particularly by boards of health) is consistent, achievable, and effective.
Action 5.2.1: Review and revise, with input from DPH, producers, and retailers, existing model policies that can be adopted by boards of health regarding specific or regional food safety concerns, and create new ones where needed there are gaps.
Action 5.2.2: Create clear expectations and interpretation of the food code, and a mandatory public process for issuing DPH and local board of health regulations so that all stakeholders are involved in the process of crafting and reviewing proposed regulations prior to implementation.
Recommendation 5.3: Improve communication among State agencies and local boards of health that are involved in food safety.
Action 5.3.1: Fund a coordinated effort to expand the makeup and scope of existing statewide Massachusetts food safety advisory groups, in interpreting and providing recommendations on implementing, and enforcing food safety regulations related to local food production and distribution.
Action 5.3.2: Strengthen relationships between local boards of health, DPH, buy local organizations, and other organizations to share information and improve dialogue.
Recommendation 5.4: Ensure food safety protocols/regulations are in place and enforced through the entire supply chain, and that producers, processors, distributors, and retailers are supported in meeting these regulations.
Action 5.4.1: Create instructional resources for producers on the food safety protocols along the value chain, especially as FSMA is implemented.
Action 5.4.2: Require training for all boards of health agents on the Massachusetts Food Code, food safety, best practices, and FSMA, conducted by DPH, Massachusetts Health Officers Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.
Action 5.4.3: Provide State support and technical assistance to local boards of health developing food safety regulations.
Action 5.4.4: Fund and build capacity of regional organizations to provide food safety and handling training that is accessible to all boards of health in each region.
Action 5.4.5: Develop and integrate throughout MDAR and UMass Extension technical assistance to producers in obtaining and maintaining food safety certifications as required by buyers and FSMA, along with technical assistance for the CQP and GAP.