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Letter to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Regarding the Disposition of Food From Flood-Affected Crops

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September 16, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has asked the Food and Drug Administration to comment on the disposition of human food from flood-affected crops. A significant amount of flooding occurred in grain and other crop fields in Vermont as a result of excessive rain from Hurricane Irene. The rains from the hurricane immersed crops. In a separate letter, FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine addressed the use of these crops for animal feed. In this letter, FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition identifies federal guidance and other written information available from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning the disposition of food from crops affected by flood waters. In section II we also identify some non-FDA resources that may be helpful.

As these references indicate, some of this food is not fit for human consumption because it is adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a) the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 342(a)). For some flood-affected crops, a determination of how to dispose of the food will need to be determined case by case. We encourage you to work with state regulators and local FDA offices to assess your particular situation.

Below we have provided some excerpts of the referenced documents, but we encourage you to read the full document to determine whether and how it applies to your crops.

I. FDA Information:

  • Definition of flood water (not pooled water):
  • Assessment of field for replanting after flooding:
    • Draft Guidance for Industry to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Leafy Greens, July 2009, “For formerly flooded production ground, FDA recommends:
      • Assessing field history and crop selection.
      • Determining the time interval between the flooding event, crop planting, and crop harvest.
      • Determining the source of flood waters (e.g., drainage canal, river, or irrigation canal) and whether there are significant upstream potential contributors of human pathogens.
      • Allowing soils to dry sufficiently and be reworked prior to subsequently planting crops on formerly flooded production ground.
      • Sampling previously flooded soil for the presence of microorganisms of significant public health concern or appropriate indicator microorganisms. Note: Microbial soil sampling can provide valuable information regarding relative risks, but sampling by itself does not guarantee that all raw agricultural commodities grown within the formerly flooded production area are free of the presence of human pathogens.”
  • Safety assessment of flood-affected crops:
    • A Notice from the Food and Drug Administration to Growers, Food Manufacturers, Food Warehouse Managers, and Transporters of Food Products About the Safety of Food Affected by Hurricanes, Flooding, and Power Outages,
      • “If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated and should not enter human food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating "clean" crops.
      • Disposition of crops in proximity to, or exposed to a lesser degree of flooding, where the edible portion of the crop has NOT come in contact with flood waters, may need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to consider in the evaluation include:
        • What is the source of flood waters and are there potential upstream contributors of human pathogens and/or chemical contaminants?
        • Type of crop and stage of growth, e.g., is the edible portion of the crop developing? How far above the ground does the lowest edible portion grow?
        • Were conditions such that the crop may have been exposed to prolonged periods of moisture and stress which could foster fungal growth, and possibly, development of mycotoxins?
      • Grains and similar products stored in bulk can also be damaged by flood waters. These flood damaged products should not be used for human and animal food.
      • Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters cannot be adequately cleaned and should be destroyed. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have begun to spoil due to the lack of refrigeration should also be destroyed. These food items may be considered for diversion to animal feed under certain circumstances.”
    • Draft Guidance for Industry to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Leafy Greens, July 2009,  “Flooding (flowing or overflowing of a field with water outside a grower's control) may contaminate crops that are in close proximity to soil, such as leafy greens, if there is contact between flood water or contaminated soil and the edible portions of leafy greens (Refs. 22, 23).”
    • Letter to California Firms that Grow, Pack, Process, or Ship Fresh and Fresh-cut Lettuce, November 4, 2005. “Although it is unlikely that contamination in all 19 outbreaks was caused by flooding from agricultural water sources, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify that FDA considers ready to eat crops (such as lettuce) that have been in contact with flood waters to be adulterated due to potential exposure to sewage, animal waste, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms, or other contaminants. FDA is not aware of any method of reconditioning these crops that will provide a reasonable assurance of safety for human food use or otherwise bring them into compliance with the law.”

II. Additional non-FDA resources:

We stand ready to continue to engage and assist in your recovery efforts, and regret the significant impact that Hurricane Irene has had on the state of Vermont.



Michael M. Landa
Acting Director
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

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