Food Safety and Organic

Food Safety is a Priority

Producing safe food is a priority for organic and conventional producers alike. All farming and food processing must comply with local, state, and federal safety standards. In addition, organic food must meet the strict standards of the USDA National Organic Program.  

10 Reasons Organic Food is Safe

  1. Organic System Plans – Each certified organic farm must have a plan that describes all aspects of the farm, including measures taken to prevent pathogenic contamination of crops and water.
  2. Traceability – Certified organic producers and processers keep extensive records so they can trace their products from the field to point of sale.
  3. Sanitation – Organic production permits antimicrobial steps such as pasteurization, equipment sanitation, and steam sterilization to lower pathogen contamination.
  4. Manure and Compost – Organic food is more strictly regulated than conventional in terms of use of manure as fertilizer. No raw manure is used in organic systems without an extended waiting period between application and harvest. 
  5. No Sewage Sludge – The use of sewage sludge is prohibited in organic farming.
  6. Microbial Balance – Beneficial microbes keep soil in balance, providing good nutrition to crops and keeping pathogens and microbes in check.
  7. Biodiversity – Creating a more diverse ecosystem by adding hedgerows, vegetative buffers, and diversified cropping systems will improve microbial balance and water filtration, and produce more nutritional food.
  8. Livestock – Organic regulations do not allow confined cattle feeding operations, considered to be one of the primary sources of E. coli 0157. Organic standards also do not allow routine use of antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli and other foodborne pathogens.
  9. No Toxic Pesticides – Toxic pesticides are prohibited in organic farming.
  10. No GMOs – The use of genetic engineering is prohibited in organic food, meaning that consumers are not at risk of possible associated risks. 

Food Safety Regulations

The organic community has been actively engaged in dialogues surrounding the most appropriate policies for producing safe food while ensuring that food safety standards are implementable by organic farmers of all types and sizes.  

The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law by President Obama in early January 2011. This law covers the broad-reaching measures aimed at preventing outbreaks of foodborne illness. While there were a number of controversial aspects of the law, the details of what it means for farmers will be determined when the final rule is published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also in question is the amount of funds congress will appropriate to implement the new bill. CCOF will continue to monitor this process to ensure organic farmers are addressed fairly by these regulations.  

Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements (LGMA) are sets of “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP) for farmers growing spinach, lettuce, and other leafy greens for salad processors. Both California and Arizona have Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements and a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has been proposed by the USDA but not yet finalized. The California agreement was created in 2007 in response to an outbreak of E. coli. With oversight from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the LGMA verifies that farmers follow accepted food safety practices through government audits.  Although it is a voluntary set of standards, many retailers require enrollment in the program. There has been some concern that some of the practices in the California LGMA are in opposition to goals of conservation and protection of wildlife habitat.  

CCOF at Work

CCOF monitors food safety laws and regulations, comments on them, and updates our members about issues that may affect them. We have also incorporated food safety into training programs we offer to our members. In September 2011, we hosted a food safety focus group with small- and mid-scale fruit and vegetable growers to provide feedback to the On-Farm Food Safety Project of www.familyfarmed.org. Based on comprehensive, harmonized standards developed by industry partners, the On-Farm Food Safety Project provides an easy-to-use online tool and food safety resources to growers. Having a food safety plan is a smart business practice that will increase consumer confidence while strengthening growers’ opportunities to sell to wholesale markets.