With FSMA regulations coming into effect, food companies must prepare for the arrival of FDA investigators, as the agency has made it a priority to inspect U.S. food facilities, and they won’t always show up announced. Prior to an investigator’s arrival, it’s important to iron out several details in order to be adequately prepared. The following are 10 questions that every company should add to its pre-inspection checklist and make sure they are addressed before the inspection.
- Where will you meet? Pinpoint a place where you will host the FDA investigators. It should be a space that has enough room for them to review records, but it should not provide access to records (paper or digital) that could be viewed unsupervised.
- Who are the Designated Individuals? Assign a primary and secondary Designated Individual (DI) for each facility. This person serves as the liaison with the FDA investigators and should coordinate vacation time to ensure that one DI will always be available if FDA arrives. Although not required, the DI should also complete Preventive Control Qualified Individual Training.
- Has the written food safety plan been finalized? And, do the primary and secondary DIs know its components (i.e., GMPs, Sanitation Programs, Preventive Control Plan, Recall Plan, Environmental Monitoring Program, Foreign Supplier Verification Plan, Sanitary Transportation Plan, Food DefensePlan, and Produce Safety Plan)?
- Are records readily accessible? The DI should be able to immediately access any supporting records from the past three months for FDA review (FDA requires that most records are maintained for at least two years, but investigators usually ask to review the preceding three months).
- Have corrective actions been documented? When a deviation occurs, you must document all corrective actions. These actions should identify the deviation’s root cause and actions to prevent recurrence. If product safety is not affected, this should include a written conclusion that the deviation “does not create an immediate or direct food safety issue.”
- Have you conducted environmental monitoring and environmental sampling? If your company processes ready- to-eat food products that are exposed to the environment prior to packaging, FDA will require you to have an environmental monitoring program. In addition, the agency will collect 100–200 microbiological samples from your facility, so you need to know exactly what FDA will find before it arrives. By conducting your own FDA-style facility swabbing, you’ll be able to identify and immediately correct any hidden problems. It’s also important to develop your swabbing and testing plan with the help of legal counsel so that the final testing results are confidential.
- Do you have a “No Photographs” policy? If not, you should. FDA Investigators will often insist on taking photographs while inspecting the processing environment. If your corporate policy prohibits visitors from taking photographs, you may in some cases be able to prevent FDA from taking pictures as well.
- Do you have a “Do Not Sign” policy? Sometimes, FDA Investigators will insist that a company representative sign a statement or affidavit during an inspection. You’re not legally obligated to do sign such a document. You should develop a policy stating you will neither sign nor acknowledge any written statements presented by FDA Investigators.
- Have you identified a suitable “on call” food industry lawyer? Add a food industry lawyer familiar with the inspection process to the company’s emergency contact list. This lawyer should be notified and remain “on call” during the inspection and serve as a resource to help answer any regulatory or investigator-related questions that arise during the process.
- Did you conduct a mock FDA inspection? One of the most effective ways to prepare for an FDA visit is to conduct a mock inspection. Food industry consultants and/or lawyers can visit your facility and play the role of the Investigator. Ask them to review your programs to identify possible regulatory shortfalls, and work with you to implement strategies that will strengthen your programs and reduce your regulatory exposure.
There are several more points to add to your pre-inspection checklist. To get the rest, attend the webinar, FDA Inspection Readiness Checklists, on March 28.