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Which Farms Have to Register with FDA?

November 19, 2014


The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new proposed food safety rules for food facilities apply to those facilities that are required to register with the government.  Hence the question of who must register as a food facility with the FDA has been central to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rulemaking process since it began in early 2013.

The new rules are not expected to be finalized until late August 2015.  The requirement to register, however, is not new.  Since the Bioterrorism Act of 2003, facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human consumption have been required to register with FDA.  The Bioterrorism Act also established two important exemptions from this requirement: one for farms, and one for retail food establishments.

Farm exemption

Under existing law, many farms are exempt from the requirement to register.  However, some farms do have to register if they do more than what FDA considers a “farm” activity.

The proposed FSMA rules change the farm definition so that farms that pack or hold raw agriculture products from other farms are not considered facilities.  This is a big improvement, given that packing and holding products from other farms is a common and cost-effective practice, particularly for farms that are aggregating products for sale to local and regional markets.  As long as these farms aren’t doing other manufacturing or processing, then they will be treated like the farms they are, not like facilities.

FDA has just released new guidance that illustrates the high likelihood that this proposed definition will be finalized into the agency’s regulations.  This means that, despite the fact that the rules aren’t yet finalized, FDA is not expecting farms that pack or hold raw agricultural products from other farms to register in this interim period.

Retail food establishment exemption

Under existing law, retail food establishments are exempt from the requirement to register.  Retail food establishments are defined as an “establishment that sells food products directly to consumers as its primary function.”  When Congress passed FSMA, it directed FDA to clarify that farmers markets, community supported agriculture, and other direct-to-consumer platforms also fall within that exemption.  FDA has said that they will issue a separate proposed rule that provides this clarification, though in the nearly four years since FSMA became law, they have not yet done so.

Meanwhile, the updated guidance that FDA published on November 18 provides some clarity on the issue.  It explains the changes to the retail food establishment exemption that are expected as a result of FSMA:

“[I]n determining the primary function of an establishment or a retail food establishment, the sale of food products directly to consumers by such establishment and the sale of food directly to consumers by such retail food establishment include:

  • The sale of such food products or food directly to consumers by such establishment at a roadside stand or farmers’ market where such stand or market is located other than where the food was manufactured or processed.
  • The sale and distribution of such food through a community supported agriculture program; and
  • The sale and distribution of such food at any other such direct sales platform as determined by FDA.”

NSAC appreciates FDA’s responsiveness to our concerns that additional clarity was needed on this issue.  It is important to note, however, that these changes are not yet finalized in the regulations.

Visit our FSMA Action Page for more information on FDA’s proposed food safety rules and how to submit comments.

Trying to figure out whether or to what extent farms and food businesses might be subject to the proposed rules?  Check out our new flow charts that diagram coverage under the proposed rules!


Categories: Food Safety, Local & Regional Food Systems


One response to “Which Farms Have to Register with FDA?”

  1. Becky Thatcher says:

    I am concerned about wording here, specifically the word processing—at our regional farmers market there were inspectors who were defining processing as including washing,
    saying that farmers could not wash lettuce for resale. Most produce at a farm market is more appealing when it has been washed, or rinsed of field dirt. not to mention food not grown organically–would certainly like that washed!

    these inspectors seem bent toward almost harassing vendors, with the types of food they can sell, amazing concerns re refrigeration.

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