What the New Produce Regulations Mean for Restaurant Owners

By Jennifer Allen

Using the popular restaurant meal of a burger and fries to understand the context of these new rules

Restaurant owners may be wondering how the FDA’s new produce safety regulations affect them. Through these new regulations, the FDA has attempted to tackle the growing number of outbreaks involving produce traditionally thought of by consumers as safe to eat (for example spinach and Romaine lettuce). The regulations broadly require farms of a certain size to develop processes relating to employee hygiene and training, agricultural water, biological soil amendments (compost, manure and the like), buildings and equipment to decrease the risk of contamination of produce during growing, harvesting, packing or holding. But what does that mean for the restaurant owner?

The simplest way to get a good overview of the regulations is to consider them in the context of a popular restaurant meal: the cheeseburger and fries. Let’s start with the fries, which is an easy one. For obvious reasons, the regulations don’t apply to produce that is rarely consumed raw. The FDA has provided an exhaustive list of this kind of produce and potatoes are, not surprisingly, on that list.

But what about the traditional burger trimmings. Most restaurants garnish their cheeseburgers with some combination of tomatoes, lettuce, onions and pickles. With the arrival of the produce regulations, can restaurants expect, and even demand, a greater level of safety and accountability from their suppliers? The short answer is yes. Lettuce, tomatoes, and onions are all covered produce under the act. Pickles are treated differently. Even though the regulations cover the typical salad garnish, whether or not they provide restaurants with greater guarantees of safety and accountability depends on who is growing, harvesting, packing and holding the produce before it reaches the restaurant.

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