Food Safety Modernization Act exempt farms still have work to do

Farms exempt from the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act produce rule still have to keep records to prove exemption and identify yourself at points of sale.

No matter the size of your fruit or vegetable farm, the release of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce rule will affect you if you sell fruits and vegetables. Even if you’re exempt from the produce rule, you’ll have to keep records to prove your exemption and identify yourself at points of sale.

All exempt produce farms need to perform and document an annual review that includes receipts of sales with the dates of sales on them. The individual receipts don’t need to be signed or initialed by the farmer, but the annual review document does need to be signed.

For reference, farms grossing less than $25,000 in annual produce sales are exempt from the requirements beyond what is outlined in this article. Those farms grossing less than $500,000 but more than $25,000 can claim a qualified exemption if they sell more than half of their product direct to consumers or locally (within 275 miles of where it’s grown).

The exemption is based on the average of the last three years’ produce sales. For farms that have not yet sold produce for three years, the expectation is that a farm will estimate future sales based on current sales records. If a farmer is claiming a qualified exemption based on local sales, the records need to be able to document the final destination, be that a local vendor or a farmer’s market.

All exempt produce farms need to have their farm name and business address displayed at the point of sale. This can take the form of a sign at a farmer’s market or can be on a label as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box or a bundle sold at a local grocery store. If a grower is not exempt from the rule, they will have a system of traceability in place that will allow trace-back to them in lieu of this requirement.

The FDA has established a phased-in process for implementation, with the first deadline set for exempt farms. Exempt farms need to be able to prove the exemption by 60 days after the publication of the rule (Nov. 3, 2015). The FDA will have guidance coming to elaborate on how this is to be implemented. Suffice it to say, if you sell produce, something will need to be added to address FSMA.

If you have specific questions about the produce rule or have difficulty tailoring good agricultural practices (GAPs) to your farm, contact Michigan State University Extension’s Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292.

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