MDA's Food Quality Assurance Program administers the fruit and vegetable grading program through a State Trust Fund Agreement with the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. MDA employees are licensed by USDA/AMS and perform both shipping point and destination market inspections to certify the grade of fruits and vegetables throughout Maryland. The program is funded by fees charged to users either on a full time contract basis or an as needed fee basis. In some cases, fees established by USDA/AMS apply to destination market inspections. These fees can be found at http://www.ams.usda.gov/fv/fpboverview.htm.
Eighty five fresh fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, peanuts and related commodities can be traded on a uniform basis coast to coast and overseas, by buyers and sellers who use official USDA grade standards. The 158 USDA grade standards for these commodities can be found at http://www.ams.usda.gov/standards/stanfrfv.htm. Official grading is voluntary unless it is required by a marketing order, marketing agreement, export/import requirements or the buyer. Producers may sell and ship uninspected produce labeled with a U.S. grade but the product is required to meet the grade standards and can be subject to an official inspection requested by the buyer.
Shipping point inspections are conducted by MDA federally licensed graders to establish the quality and condition of produce. Producers and shippers voluntarily use this service to lessen rejections and establish a fair basis for settling disputes concerning grade, condition, pack, etc. Shipping point inspections are also conducted by MDA staff to meet export and USDA commodity purchase requirements.
Destination market inspections are requested by receivers of fruits and vegetables such as wholesalers, retailers, institutional buyers and government agencies. These inspections can be requested for grade and/or condition when the receiver wants to verify the product meets specifications. These inspections are frequently used to mediate disputes between buyers and sellers. MDA offers destination market inspections out of Salisbury and Hagerstown. USDA offers this service out of the Jessup market.
The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) fosters trading practices in the marketing of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables in interstate and foreign commerce. It prohibits unfair and fraudulent practices and provides a means of enforcing contracts. Official certificates issued by MDA staff documenting grading based on U.S. Grade standards are accepted as legal evidence in all Federal courts where these cases may be heard.
Other fruit and vegetable services offered by the Food Quality Assurance program include audits conducted by MDA staff that have completed ISO 9000 Lead Auditor training to verify compliance with Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices and Food Security.
Food Quality Assurance Program