Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

The Food Safety Modernization Act for Dummies (Part 1)

By Shawn K. Stevens
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Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel

Let’s approach FSMA from a different angle: byembracing the idea that complying with FSMA can be straightforward and easy.

There has been a lot written in recent months about the perceived complexities of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The new requirements are broad and onerous, stakeholders complain. The proposed rules will be burdensome and costly, experts predict. And FDA enforcement will be varied and inconsistent, others warn. And, yes, even I have been at least partially guilty (I will reluctantly admit) of adding my own voice to the growing chorus detailing all the unfavorable features of FSMA.

But, as I continued to think about the problem, I quickly began to realize that none of this commentary is overly helpful for the business owner simply trying to achieve compliance. Most companies don’t really care about listening to experts pontificate endlessly (which has been going on months and, in some instances, years). Instead, most companies just want to be told what they need to do. So, with that in mind, I thought it would be helpful if we started with a blank canvas, and approached FSMA from a different angle. FSMA for Dummies – or, compliance made simple.

To start out, let’s be clear, the general principles underlying FSMA are really quite easy to grasp. In its most basic form, FSMA requires companies to make safe food. Duh.

Second, food companies shouldn’t be misled about the difficulty of compliance. How a company goes about making safe food is, well, with just a few exceptions, left up to the company itself.

So far, so good? I hope so. It’s not very difficult.

Next, to actually demonstrate to FDA that a company has achieved compliance, a food company needs only to understand what the FDA inspectors will want to see when they show up at the company’s door. Here too, the answer is very simple. Generally speaking, if you process food products using ingredients sourced from suppliers in the U.S., there will be three basic requirements.

First, you will need to show FDA inspectors that you have a written food safety plan. Second, you will need to show the inspectors the records that you have created which prove you have been following your written food safety plan. And third, you will simply need to show the inspectors where your ingredients came from, the products in which those ingredients were used, and your customer to whom you shipped them. If you process foods using ingredients sourced from overseas, you will also need to have a folder in your file cabinet (or on your computer) called “foreign supplier verification program.” We will talk about what exactly FDA will want to see in that folder in our next column.

So, when it comes to FSMA, try to discount any forecasts of rough seas or dark clouds. Instead, embrace the idea that complying with FSMA can be very straightforward and easy.

And, with that footing, I will detail, in my next column, the basic steps companies can take to meet the three (or, maybe four) basic requirements listed above.

Yes, it is possible, even dummies can do FSMA.

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Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel

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