Tag Archives: FDA

FDA Seeks Key Investments for Implementing FSMA

The agency makes a case for immediate investments now, and sustained funding in future years, explaining that there is a risk of delayed, uneven, and potentially disruptive implementation of FSMA, to the detriment of public health and the food industry.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in January 2011. FSMA reflects the need for a modern, global food safety system that prevents problems rather than primarily reacting to them after they have occurred.

The law, which received bipartisan support, followed a series of severe outbreaks of foodborne illness. It responds to the significant burden of foodborne illness in the United States each year, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate at 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths. The economic losses to industry, including farmers, are enormous, estimated at over $75 billion per year.

Since FSMA was enacted, FDA has carried out extensive work to implement the law by publishing key FSMA proposed rules that would provide needed food safety protections for the American public, while at the same time making the proposed rules as flexible as possible and workable.

These proposed rules were informed by current industry practices and by conducting extensive outreach and dialogue across the country and overseas with farmers, manufacturers, commercial food handlers, consumers, and government partners.

Currently, FDA is under court-ordered deadlines to issue all seven of these key final rules:

  • The final rules for preventive controls for human and animal foods are due on August 30, 2015;
  • The final rules on produce safety, Foreign Supplier Verification Programs, and accreditation of third party auditors are due on October 31, 2015; and
  • The final rules for sanitary transportation and intentional adulteration are due on March 31, 2016, and May 31, 2016, respectively.

Implementation

Developing reasonable, effective, and flexible rules is just the first step in FSMA implementation. Much more needs to be done to ensure smooth and effective implementation in late 2016 and 2017. And additional funding is needed to support the following areas:

  • Inspection modernization and training;
  • Furthering the National Integrated Food Safety System;
  • Education and technical assistance for industry;
  • Technical staffing and guidance development at FDA;
  • Building the new import safety system; and
  • Risk analytics and evaluation.

FDA is also committed to change within the agency itself to enhance industry compliance with the FSMA rules. First, FDA is overhauling its inspection model to fulfill FSMA’s prevention mandate. To carry out the new model, FDA will increase specialization of the inspection and compliance workforce, build a new compliance culture within FDA that uses a variety of tools and incentives to achieve compliance, and invest in training to ensure expert and consistent inspections and sound decision making.

Second, the agency will assume that most in industry want to comply with food safety standards and thus will educate before and while it regulates through guidance, education, and technical assistance.

Third, the frequency and manner of FDA’s inspections will be guided by a company’s food safety culture and performance.

The allocation of funds needed in FY 2016 to make these changes is outlined below.

FY 2016 plans for requested budget authority

With a total of $1.3 billion in budget authority, an increase of $109.5 million, requested in the President’s Budget, FDA will make improvements in the following areas, continuing improvements that began with FY 2015 funds.

1. Inspection Modernization and Training – $25 million

FSMA fundamentally changes FDA’s approach to food safety oversight, from primarily reacting to problems to preventing them in the first place. New inspection and compliance strategies will be a key component of this shift. FDA is not requesting more inspectors for domestic inspections, but rather will increase efficiency and effectiveness of current inspectors through the use of new inspectional models and approaches. Inspectors are currently trained to inspect food manufacturers using a compliance model focused on finding evidence of violations and bringing enforcement cases. The new food safety paradigm will be focused on whether firms are implementing systems that effectively prevent food contamination, requiring fundamentally different approaches to food safety inspection and compliance. For example, FDA will deploy more specialized inspectors, supported by technical experts, to assess the soundness and performance of a facility’s overall food safety system and will use data to guide risk-based inspection priority, frequency, depth, and approach. FDA will also focus on ensuring consistency among inspections conducted by FDA or the states on behalf of FDA.

This new paradigm involves a major reorientation and retraining of more than 2,000 FDA inspectors, compliance officers, and other staff involved in food safety activities. FDA has also committed to improving risk-based targeting, which will require better data about facilities, new IT systems to identify and track risk, and methods for assessing and tracking inspection efficiency and inspector competency.

2. National Integrated Food Safety System – $32 million

Congress recognized that the success of FSMA implementation depends on fundamentally new approaches to collaboration among the more than 3,000 state, local, and tribal government agencies involved in food safety. Building a National Integrated Food Safety System is a complex and long-term process. To be successful in aligning state programs with FDA’s new facility inspection and compliance approach, approximately 1,000 state inspectors will need training, and the states will need real-time information sharing capacity with FDA and other states, state laboratory accreditation, and inspector certification programs. Those processes, which will be carried out mostly via FDA grants and cooperative agreements to states, have been ongoing but must be ramped up significantly in 2016 to help ensure that states conduct sound, consistent inspections when industry must comply with the new preventive controls rules starting in late 2016. In addition, to successfully implement the produce safety rule, FDA must build state partnerships and capacity in 2016 to provide education and technical assistance to growers in anticipation of the rule starting to be implemented in 2017.

3. Education and Technical Assistance for Industry – $11.5 million

With FDA’s new approach to ensuring food safety, education and technical assistance are needed to help farmers, processors, and importers—especially small businesses—implement the new prevention-oriented standards. Approximately 300,000 entities could be subject to the final FSMA rules. FDA believes that it should expend substantial financial resources to provide such assistance and will make training materials widely available to protect public health. FDA would use a large portion of these resources to provide financial support to state agencies and public-private-academic collaborative entities, such as the Produce Safety Alliance and the Preventive Controls Alliance.

4. Technical Staffing and Guidance Development at FDA – $4 million

Maintaining an adequate number of highly qualified technical staff at FDA is always a priority and challenge, but FSMA makes it essential to achieve this goal. In addition to regulatory standards for FSMA, FDA is issuing guidance documents that express the agency’s current thinking and are essential to helping industry to comply with the FSMA requirements. Funds are needed now to recruit additional experts at FDA who can ensure that guidance development, which is now underway, is based on the best science and knowledge of industry practices. More experts are also needed to conduct outreach to industry, academia, and state extension services to ensure that their concerns are heard, that their advice is solicited and utilized, and that the guidance documents reflect the most cost-effective solutions achievable. They will also play an essential role in supporting FDA’s inspection and compliance force in properly overseeing implementation of the new standards and achieving high rates of compliance.

5. New Import Safety Systems – $25.5 million

Improving oversight of imported food is crucial to protect public health and ensure consumer confidence in food safety, regardless of whether food is produced domestically or imported. The food consumed by Americans today comes from over 200,000 different food facilities, more than half of which are located outside the United States. For example, about 50% of fresh fruits, 20% of fresh vegetables, and 80% of seafood consumed by Americans is imported. The volume of imported food has increased enormously over the past 20 years, going from fewer than 200,000 line-entries in the early 1990s to an estimated 12 million in 2013. The Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) mandated by FSMA, will require importers to implement supplier verification plans to help ensure food produced overseas meets U.S. food safety standards. This shift presents an enormous challenge for both FDA and food importers, given that there were approximately 88,000 consignees receiving food shipments last year. To be successful, FSVP implementation will require a substantial regulatory development process, training of more than 400 current FDA investigative and compliance personnel, and the addition of new staff (including 50 in 2016) with the audit skills needed to assess importer safety plans. It will also require extensive training and technical assistance for importers.

6. Risk Analytics and Evaluation – $4.5 million

Focusing decisions and resources on areas of greatest risk to health is a key element of FSMA, so FDA is developing new tools that will provide the information needed to do so. This includes new tools for ranking risks, prioritizing program activities based on opportunities to reduce risk, and linking risk-based priorities more clearly with budget formulation and execution. For example, these tools will better inform FDA about which foods, including animal foods, are most vulnerable to which bacterial contaminants, and where it should invest its research efforts to most effectively identify how to reduce contamination of food. This will improve FDA’s productivity in all areas, including research and standard setting, inspections, and guidance to industry.

Note: The $109.5 million increase in the food safety budget for FDA includes $7 million for necessary infrastructure costs.

Conclusion

Developing reasonable, effective, and flexible rules to create a modern, prevention-based food safety system is a formidable job, but it is just the first step in FSMA implementation. Much more needs to be done to lay the groundwork for smooth and effective implementation of FSMA in late 2016 and 2017. Without an immediate investment now, and sustained funding in future years, there is a risk of delayed, uneven, and potentially disruptive implementation of FSMA, to the detriment of public health and the food industry. 

Source: This article has been adapted from a paper authored by FDA, which can be accessed here

Lawmakers Introduce Bill for Single “Food Safety Administration”

Food safety oversight is currently split up among 15 agencies in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Commerce. The Safe Food Act of 2015 introduced in both houses of Congress on Wednesday, aims to consolidate all the authorities for food safety inspections, enforcement and labeling into the Food Safety Administration.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced bills in Congress yesterday with a goal to establish a single, independent federal food safety agency. The aim is to improve food safety for consumers, while also cutting back on the costs of a dispersed system with overlapping responsibilities between agencies, according to Durbin.

 

“What the bill does is remedy the situation,” DeLauro said. “With a single agency, we believe our country will be able to have the ability to detect relatively minor problems before they become major outbreaks.”

The Act would provide the Food Safety Administration with mandatory recall authority for unsafe food, require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration, authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards, improve foreign food import inspections, and require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks.

DeLauro said the bill builds on the improvements made in FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The federal agencies that would be incorporated into one include:

  • FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM); 
  • The resources and facilities of FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs that administer and conduct inspections of food and feed facilities and imports; 
  • The resources and facilities of the Office of the FDA Commissioner that support CFSAN, CVM and inspections;
  • USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service;
  • The part of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service that administers shell egg surveillance services;
  • The part of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area related to food and feed safety;
  • The part of USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Health Service related to the management of animals going into the food supply; and
  • The part of the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce that administers the seafood inspection program. 

A single food safety agency is not a new concept, and the two lawmakers have sponsored Safe Food Acts five times before, though the most recent was in 2007. In addition, the Government Accountability Office has reported on the need for better coordination of food safety activities over the years.

DeLauro mentioned eggs as an example to show how complicated the current food safety landscape was: “One agency manages the health of hens, another oversees the feed that they eat, another sets egg quality standards but does not test them for Salmonella,” she said. “While still in its shell, the egg is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration, but once it’s processed into an egg product, it becomes the responsibility of Food Safety and Inspection Service.”

Durbin and DeLauro are hoping to build bipartisan support for the bills. Current cosponsors of the Senate Safe Food Act include Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

NYC Food Vendors Don’t Change Gloves Enough

A recent study noted that 57 percent of 1,804 customer transactions observed did not involve the vendor changing gloves in between handling money and the next person’s order.

The majority of New York City mobile food vendors don’t change their gloves after exchanging money and before serving the next customer, as required by law, a new study has found.

Researchers from William Paterson University in New Jersey studied 10 food carts within 10 densely populated areas of Manhattan, a total of 100 carts. They found that 57 percent of 1,804 customer transactions observed did not involve the vendor changing gloves in between handling money and the next person’s order.

Study author Corey Basch describes the results as “eye-opening from a public health perspective” because of foodborne illness risk. “Being observant to the glove-changing behaviors of the vendors as well as overall hygiene is prudent and can reveal a great deal in a short time,” she said.

The New York City Health Code 81.13 requires that food vendors change gloves “after handling raw foods, performing tasks that do not involve food preparation or processing, handling garbage, or any other work where the gloves may have become soiled or contaminated.”

FSMA: What to Expect in 2015

By Aaron G. Biros
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Companies should start preparing for FSMA immediately, caution two food safety experts. Between the proposed and final rule, there is some concern for not knowing the future, but companies should conduct FSMA assessments and build a roadmap for compliance on track with FDA timelines. So are you prepared?

Two experts from The Acheson Group – Dr. David Acheson, and Melanie Neumann, in a recent FSMA Friday webinar, discussed what companies should expect from the FDA in 2015 and how they can adjust to comply with new rules as the final deadlines approach. FoodSafetyTech presents some excerpts:

With the FSMA comment deadline closed, what can we expect from FDA in terms of finalizing FSMA?

With the agency still answering questions and conducting FSMA related activities such as dealing with deadlines and proposals, we can expect to see the agency go silent on that. We have gone through multiple comment periods already so we should expect them to stick to their timeline of implementing rules.

What is FDA ultimately seeking to achieve with these rules?

When we look at where FDA is going in 2015, we need to look at what we should be doing in the private sector under FSMA’s prevention scheme. FDA is trying to require companies to think about preventative controls. It is about understanding where your risks are and using the appropriate controls. The main issue surfaces when regulators and suppliers have different senses of what appropriate controls really are. So, thinking about risk-based strategies, whether in the supply chain, internal systems, or whether you are a grower or importer, is going to be key in planning for the future.

When is it anticipated that the FSMA rules will be finalized?

Going from reactive to proactive and preventative strategies is the essence of FSMA’s effect on shifting the regulatory scheme. Therefore we should expect preventative control rules to come out first. We must put together a monitoring program and corrective actions in our food safety plan proactively. The FDA really wants to get these rules rolled out and enforced before the administration changes in 2016 with the next presidential election so we can safely assume they will try to stick to their published timelines (most proposed rules have a deadline in Fall 2015 with the latest in the spring of 2016).

What will some of the biggest challenges be for food and beverage companies as they begin to consider FSMA compliance?

The biggest challenges will deal with how to properly manage, store, and retrieve documentation. All the traceability data, information, and production and supplier documentation that is key in a recall should be readily presentable. Having all this data and documentation, being able to produce it quickly and turn it over to the on demand is the biggest hurdle. Companies need to leverage technology to manage this risk in documentation and data organization.

What should companies be doing now to begin to prepare for FSMA as we wait for the final rules?

Companies should start preparing for FSMA immediately. Between the proposed and final rule, there is some concern for not knowing the future, but companies should conduct FSMA assessments and build a roadmap for compliance on track with FDA timelines.

Supply chain risk control and environmental monitoring are new and challenging ventures. The behavior of FDA in the past few years have shown that any company that needs to comply with preventative control rules should really pay attention to their environmental monitoring program.

HAACP systems are likely to be fairly robust and will translate quickly, but environmental monitoring could be considered the Achilles’ heel. The other Achilles’ heel is the supply chain. This was in the original statute giving FDA the authority to require supply chain risk assessments and controls. This has resurfaced in the re-proposals, which is very reflective of the foreign supplier verification program. Look at what you know about your supply chain. The expectation will be that you control those risks.

The other challenge is FDA is expecting you to look more than one step upstream. If you are buying your ingredients from a distributor, it is your responsibility to institute preventative controls in environmental monitoring Companies need an organized central repository of all upstream, internal, and downstream documentation and data.

GFSI standards compare to the preventative control rules. The standards might be highly robust but that does not necessarily mean you comply with food defense and foreign supplier verification programs. Keep all that in mind when looking strategically toward 2016.

Summarized by Aaron Biros

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

Final FSMA Rules – How to Prepare?

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

In a recent FSMA Fridays event, three experts from The Acheson Group Jennifer Cleveland McEntire, Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Science Officer; <strong”>Anne Sherod, Director of Food Safety; and Valerie Scheidt, Director of Food Safety – talked about preparing for final FSMA rules. Food Safety Tech presents some excerpts:

FSMATo-DoListHow close are we to the final rules in terms of how much can things still change, and are we more confident about some rules than others in terms of how much change we might still see?

We anticipate some changes with the proposed Third Party Certification rules especially around the responsibility of auditors to have mandatory reporting to FDA if they find any signification non-conformances. And this covers findings from consultative audits as well, so we feel it may be counterintuitive to do this as companies are aiming for continuous improvement.

We also think they may be some changes with the Food Defense rule. The agency may consider how GFSI views food defense and some of the mitigation strategies that are being proposed.

But for the most part, we think the other proposed rules will pretty much be as is.

What are Top 3 things that companies should be doing NOW to prepare?

First, companies need to figure out who that qualified individual will be especially in manufacturing facilities that have to comply with the preventive controls or foreign supplier verification rule. It’s important that this qualified individual is adequate informed and understands their responsibilities and what they need to do.

Also it’s really important to understand thoroughly the preventive controls rule and how it applies to your facility for instance, to your pre-requisite programs, GMP etc. Analyze how the preventive control rule will go beyond process control, and CCPs.

Another aspect that companies are really struggling with is document management, and realizing how they will be used by FDA.

Adding a fourth to do, companies need to be thorough with Supplier Controls – understand who is in the supply chain, and how they have been approved. FDA will be interested to know if you know their risks and how you are managing them.

In the area of supplier control, FDA made some significant changes in this last round of revisions. Will these hold? If so, what should companies be doing now to prepare?

You will need to have strong supplier controls. Although it looks like a new component, it was always expected. While regulatory compliance is the baseline, what we are seeking in brand protection as an end result. There are two things to get started – get a supplier approval process in place, after assessing supplier risk and making decisions on what can control that risk. You will also need to have monitoring and verification programs, and corrective actions in place.

Step two will be managing all this information. Documentation needs to fully support this system. Companies can do this either manually, or leverage technology that they currently are using, or can look for new technology opportunities. Whatever option they choose, companies must have everything in writing, especially a list of non-negotiable items that they can provide to their suppliers to see what they can do to meet your requirements.

From a scientific standpoint, it looks like companies will need to validate safety processes. Will FDA will be flexible in accepting tried and true operations, or will new studies need to be conducted?

FDA will accept tried and true operations, e.g. if you are doing a cook process, and you are monitoring for end point internal temp of 160 degrees, or if you have pH control of less than 4.6, and if these help in eliminating pathogens, then you have scientific validation for what you are doing. However, if you are doing a new process or a novel product, and have no process that’s scientifically supported, such as cook process, temperature or pH control, you need to have supporting data. In such cases, you will need to reach out to a Qualified Individual, and possibility have to do those studies to to make sure you have scientific justification for validation of your food safety plan.

What are requirements for a qualified individual?

A qualified individual is someone who has the required education, training, and experience to make decisions that are needed. However, that FD training that is required, doesn’t exist yet. So there’s a little bit of ambiguity here. But you look at types of responsibilities and information they need to know, the individual primarily has to be knowledgeable and confident about food safety. Just because that training and curriculum aren’t out yet, it doesn’t mean that you cannot look intuitively, and tell and this is the appropriate person and identify any training they may need.

Click here to listen to this webinar, and get more of your questions answered.

Roberta Wagner, Director, Office of Compliance, for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at FDA

How is FDA Surveillance Keeping Pace with FSMA Changes?

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Roberta Wagner, Director, Office of Compliance, for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at FDA

Proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act will mandate more inspections, more testing, and better risk-based profiling of food products – both sourced domestically and imported. How is FDA planning to keep pace with these changes? Roberta Wagner, Director, Office of Compliance, for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at FDA, provided some insights, while speaking at the recent Food Safety Consortium, organized by Food Safety Tech

Section 201 under the Food Safety Modernization Act requires the Food and Drug Administration to designate food facilities at high-risk and non high-risk facilities, and accordingly, establish minimum frequency of inspection of these facilities. While high-risk facilities will have to be inspected by FDA once every three years, facilities deemed non high-risk will be inspected once every five years. Wagner described that the following factors have been considered so far for determining if a domestic food manufacturing facility is determined to be high-risk or otherwise:

  • Whether the facility has been involved in a Class 1 outbreak or recall;
  • Whether the facility has a history of non-compliance (based on Official – Action Indicated (OAI) or Voluntary Action Indicated (VAI) data);
  • If the facility has had any significant violations;
  • Future data considerations (see below);
  • Type of activity the facility is involved in; and
  • Date of last inspection.

Future data for consideration of high-risk and non high-risk categorization will include:

  • Inherent risk factors at product level (for instance is the product bakery goods, or seafood/ fresh produce etc);
  • Has the facility been linked to an outbreak, recall or adverse event (if so the risk profile gets elevated);
  • If any sample testing (product or environmental) is positive;
  • If there’s a history of customer complaints;
  • Robustness of QA/QC programs and 3rd part audit reports;
  • Financial viability of the company; and
  • Food safety culture of the facility/ company.

Foreign facility inspections

Under FSMA, FDA has also been mandated to increase the number of inspections the agency does on foreign facilities, to ensure the safety of imported foods. Wagner explained that FDA currently conducts about 1200 foreign facility inspections a year to determine if those facilities meed FDA regulations. With FSMA rules, FDA will have increased authority to conduct such inspections of foreign faciligies, and look at Foreign Supplier Verification Programs, and Voluntary Qualified Importer Program records, adds Wagner.

Under the new regimen, FDA has been mandated to conduct at least 600 foreign inspections during the first year of FSMA rule implementation. And the target is to double this number every year, for the next five years, taking it to 19,200 inspections by Year 6. Wagner feels this is an impractical number as FDA does not have the resources to do so many foreign inspections. “If we get the Foreign Supplier Verification Program under FSMA rule right, we effectively place the responsibility for ensuring safety of imported foods on the food industry and importers. FDA cannot, and should not be doing this,” she explains.

Risk-based foreign facility site selection

FDA will also adopt a risk-based approach to select foreign facilities for further inspection. This approach will consider:

  • Food safety risk associated with the sector or commodity;
  • Risk associated with manufacturing process;
  • Compliance history of facilities associated with an industry sector commodity in a given country or region (for instance, look at refusal rates for products denied try into the U.S. by country);
  • Quantity or volume of imported product from country or region;
  • Robustness of food safety system in the country; and
  • Portion of resources retained by the facility for compliance, follow up inspections and emergency response situations.

Based on this FDA will continue to diversify the product that it considers high risk, for instance dairy, baby food, candy… Wagner added that economically motivated adulterated continues to be a concern and cause for focus on food products such as oils, honey and dietary supplements.

Wagner also talked about Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting or PREDICT, a risk management tool used by FDA to efficiently and effectively make entry admissibility, decisions that prevent entry of adulterated, mis-branded or otherwise violative imported goods into the U.S., while expediting the entry of non-violative goods. Based on risk scores allocated to different products, this computerized tool targets entries of highest risk for further scrutiny, including field reviews and sampling.

She explained that this dynamic tool, which constantly adapts to different risk situations and products, provides automatic data mining and pattern recognition, provides automated queries of FDA databases including facility registration information, and thus, allows for risk-based allocation of FDA resources.

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

FSVP: What Has Changed in the Re-proposed Rule?

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

In a recent FSMA Fridays webinar, Dr. David Acheson, and Melanie Neumann of The Acheson Group covered some of these changes and its impact on the food industry. Food Safety Tech presents some excerpts:

What is FSVP all about?

Dr. Acheson: The foreign supplier verification program is supply chain risk control for imported foods. Following the melamine in pet foods scandal that originated in China, the legislation was aimed at tightening preventive controls for imported foods. The rule concerns companies that import food from foreign manufacturers, and requires them to ensure that those suppliers are complaint with FDA requirements in the U.S. and thus, you are addressing risks along the supply chain.

How did the re-proposals change FVSP rules?

While there are several changes proposed, the entire substance of the FSVP rules haven’t changed as whole. Overall the changes seem to align the FSVP rule closer to the preventive controls rule in terms of wording and intent. Some of the changes include:

  • Approved Suppliers: As long as an importer can demonstrate that they have a process to approve suppliers, and that they follow it, there is no need for them to maintain a list of approved suppliers. However, this raises a question: If you don’t have a list of suppliers, do you know if your supplier is approved or not?
  • Supplier Risk: FDA now requires an evaluation of supplier risk along with product risk. Factors that should be considered include regulatory compliance, the history with the supplier (including test results and their willingness to correct problems), and any other relevant factors.
  • Audit requirements: In the original rules, FDA asked whether or not an initial audit and subsequent annual audits should be required when an importer identifies hazards that could cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals. In the supplement, FDA has basically said that yes, audits should be required under these circumstances, but has also given the flexibility in stating that if an importer can demonstrate that the risk can be managed in some other way, and that suppliers can be just as effectively verified through other means, then the importer is free to use other tools, or to decrease frequency of the audits.
  • Duplication of efforts: FDA will not require food manufacturing facilities who are subject to preventive controls (and who rely on suppliers to control significant hazards) to keep a whole additional plan in place to comply with FSVP.
  • Definition of very small importer: In the re-proposed rule, FDA has set $ 1 million in annual sales as the definition for very small importer, which aligns with the definition in the Preventive Controls rule.

Will food and beverage importers be expected to do onsite audits of foreign suppliers?

As described above, importers are supposed to do onsite audits, but only for significant hazards. Earlier FDA had provided two options. In the re-proposal, FDA seems to going with Option 1, which requires an annual audit for those supplier with significant hazards, but had added flexibility, by which the importer can determine another way of determining risk, or a less frequent audit schedule in lieu of that annual audit. But here’ the concern: While I embrace flexibility and decision making power at the industry or importer level, but there’s no objective bar set. The new requirement seems to say, ‘You have to do this, but you don’t have to do this, if you think you don’t have to do it!’ As a lawyer, looking at this in writing, it raises some flags about enforcement.

Click here for more on this exciting and evolving topic, including answers on where GFSI audits fit in, and what should U.S. importers be doing now to be ready to comply with FSVP requirements.

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

FSMA and GFSI: Alignment and Gaps

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

A recent FSMA Fridays webinar, presented by SafetyChain and The Acheson Group, focused on the interesting topic of FSMA and GFSI: Alignment and Gaps. The discussion covered questions such as did FDA reinvent the wheel with FSMA, given GFSI? If you are GFSI certified, will you comply with all FSMA rules? What do you need to do in addition? Will FDA accept GFSI certification in lieu of an inspection?

David Acheson, M.D., and Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., of The Acheson Group gave their perspective on where the rules and guidance shaping food safety programs in the industry are similar, and how they differ. We present below some excerpts.

Did FDA reinvent the wheel with FSMA, with GFSI already there?

Dr. Acheson: At a very fundamental level, GFSI is global and FSMA is more U.S.-centric, focused on protecting the American consumer. If you look back a few years, to the time when FSMA rules were being put together, there wasn’t clear understanding about the impact of GFSI and what it could accomplish. GFSI has evolved substantially since then, both in terms of the various standards, and in terms of the execution (preparing companies for audits and doing the actual audits). While there is a lot of alignment between FSMA proposed rules and the various GFSI guidance documents, I don’t think FDA reinvented the wheel with FSMA, which is more detailed, more prescriptive and U.S.-centric.

Which proposed rules are most similar to the GFSI guidance document, and which are different?

McEntire: If we consider the seven proposed rules under GFSI so far, and compare it with the different ‘scopes’ under GFSI, you can see within one scope several elements of FSMA rule:

Produce rule: In some areas what FDA is looking for is more prescriptive, more stringent than what GFSI has in their books, and in other areas, GFSI standard is more detailed. We need to remember that these are still ‘proposed’ rules, so it is hard to predict where FDA will land eventually.

Preventive controls: There is fairly strong alignment between this rule and GFSI. There is some minor differences, but the approach is quite similar.

Food defense: With this rule, you can see of the greater differences. Under FSMA, there’s a whole new rule, compared to just a few lines under GFSI for food defense. So FDA is more specific in what they are looking for and will expect food companies to do more work, over the GFSI scheme.

Sanitary transportation: FDA said they wanted to align with industry practices, and GFSI Logistics guidance for this rule. So broadly the requirements are consistent.

Foreign Supplier Verification Program: This is an interesting one, because there’s no GFSI call out for international versus domestic supplier. FDA is taking a more specific approach in what needs to be done to evaluate and verify foreign suppliers. In our mind, GFSI is taking a more appropriate approach, which FDA will need to consider, to include all suppliers, global or domestic.

There are other elements of GFSI that FDA has not issued rules such as traceability, but overall there’s general alignment between the two sets of food safety requirements.

When you look at some key differences, again, GFSI is global. FSMA more US focused. GFSI is more guidance documents and broad scope, while FSMA is actual rules.

When it comes to rule-specific differences, if you consider Preventive Controls, the proposed rule looks at it pretty comprehensively, not just at critical points. So while it’s aligned with HACCP principles, it builds on it, and goes beyond HACCP.

Also, there are some terminology differences: FDA calls the point person a ‘qualified individual.’ Each scheme has their own term for this person. Some standards require a team to evaluate – not just one individual.

Will FDA accept a certificate from one of the GFSI schemes instead of an inspection?

Dr. Acheson: This is a million dollar question and often asked. I feel if it is a full course inspection (based on a compliant, an RFR etc.), then no. FDA will want to do the inspection in order to do their regulatory job, as they are supposed to. Remember, there’s a lot of alignment between GFSI and FSMA, though it’s not a 100 percent. So will they accept a certificate in lieu of an inspection? Right now, no. but there will be a point, where FDA will take a certificate as recognition that a company is certified to a GFSI standard – and factor this in to a certain level, for instance, to determine who will get inspected this week versus next month. As the schemes evolve, and as GFSI becomes more aligned with FDA, keeping in mind that GFSI is intended to be more global than U.S. focused, if a company is certified against a GFSI standard, I think it’s likely that FDA will take it seriously.

McEntire: If a company is certified to a GFSI scheme, and is willing to share information of that certification process with FDA, it will go a long way in establishing credibility of the food safety and quality program. Of course, you need to keep in mind that the certificate is limited to that audit, which at best, is a snap shot of the company’s food safety management program a given time. Also, note that GFSI audits are currently announced, versus FDA inspections which are unannounced, where an inspector show s up at your door.

Broadly, if you are certified to a GFSI standard, you are in a good place to comply with FSMA rules, and in better shape than other companies who are not certified. But you need to read the rules, understand the rules, and see what additional things you need to do to be compliant.

Hear more about FSMA and GFSI – Alignment and Gaps, and what you need to do by clicking here.Next FSMA Fridays, on October 31, will cover Foreign Supplier Verification, Produce, Human and Animal Rules – 2nd Review Cycle – Part 2.

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

FSMA 2nd Review Cycles: A Q&A on Preventive Controls

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

On Friday September 19, 2014, FDA finally released re-proposals to four of the main FSMA-related rules: Preventive Controls for both Human and Animal Food, the Produce Safety Rule, and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program. The 75-day comment period will close around mid-December, after the proposals are officially published in the Federal Register.

At a recent FSMA Fridays webinar, presented by SafetyChain, Dr. David Acheson and Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., of The Acheson Group focused on changes proposed to the Preventive Controls rule (for Human and Animal Foods). We present below some excerpts:

Q: What is the further definition of situations where environmental testing will be required?

Dr. Acheson: This is one of three very predictable components of the reproposals coming out. We have been saying for a long time to expect environmental monitoring to come back into the regulations. We all wish we have environmental monitoring everywhere, but this is not practical, feasible or environmentally focused. So what FDA has done now is to say we expect you to look at your environment, especially if it’s ready-to-eat products, and require you to conduct environmental monitoring in those specific areas. The change proposed is not fully prescriptive, and facilities need to conduct environmental monitoring as appropriate to their food products, the facility etc. It is required it specific circumstances where ready-to-eat product is exposed post-processing, and before packaging. Under this reproposed rule, the agency requires you to have strong environmental monitoring procedures as needed, records of these methods, and proof that you have corrective actions built in, when needed.

Q: What is the role of finished product testing in verification of food safety plans?

McEntire: When FSMA rules were initially announced, there was a lot of uncertainty whether FDA would require finished product testing, as in many cases, this would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Now FDA is asking you to do finished product testing as necessary, as a verification activity to check if your overall food safety system is working well. Companies will need to look at the types of preventive controls that in place, at areas such as sanitation, employee hygiene (hand washing) etc., aspects that FDA does not require to be validated, and use finished product testing as a way to make sure that these are being done the way they are supposed to be. If you think it’s appropriate and if you choose to have finished product testing as part of your verification, make sure to have written procedures, documentation, corrective actions etc.

Q: What are the requirements and responsibilities for controlling suppliers along a company’s supply chain?

Dr. Acheson: Everybody recognizes that controls supply chain risk is an important part of controlling brand risk, AND it is a huge challenge. So it makes logical sense, and we know from experience, that suppliers have and will continue to send out food and ingredients that are not suitable, cause problems and cause recalls. Another reason is based in the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, which is essentially a different take on Supply Chain control. The only difference is that FSVP is a risk control requirement for imported, FDA-controlled foods. It looks at who you are getting food from, is there a hazard in it, and how is that hazard controlled? With the FSVP, we had set a different bar for imported foods than for foods sourced domestically. So this new addition rule tries to align Preventive Controls rule with the FSVP, by adopting a similar approach. So now it doesn’t matter if you source domestically, or from outside, you need to have a strong supplier controls program, and this has to be risk-based.

So look at your ingredients or materials. Do they contain a significant risk? If so, who’s controlling that risk – you or the supplier? For instance, if you are sourcing an ingredient like an herb, which has been associated with a Salmonella outbreak, then yes, there is a risk associated with it. So this ingredient that you are sourcing from different places is a significant hazard, but what you are doing with it is putting it in a blend and then cooking it in a product. So you are controlling that risk, and you don’t need to document that from the suppliers. However, the same ingredient, if you are just using it as a garnish, without a kill step, the control falls back on the supplier. And you as the user, have to make sure that the supplier is controlling that risk. The agency is giving some options, such as audits, testing, verification of supplier programs etc. to manage this requirement. For instance, if your analysis says there’s a significant risk, and it can lead to a significant adverse effect or death, Class 1 type situation, if that ingredient poses that level of risk and you are not controlling it, then an annual audit will have to be conducted of that supplier.

Where does GFSI fit into this? In my view, GFSI will align with this. So if you have a GFSI audit of the supplier, then you are going to be in pretty good shape.

Microbiological Method Validation: The Elephant in the Lab

By Evan Henke, PhD, MPH
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Although commonly overlooked, microbiological method validation studies are the linchpins of entire quality programs, and method validations done without rigor are crippling our industry’s ability to truly ensure the quality and safety of foods on a daily basis.

Food quality managers, it is time we discussed the critical importance of validation studies in the quality lab. Although commonly overlooked, microbiological method validation studies are the linchpins of entire quality programs, and method validations done without rigor are crippling our industry’s ability to truly ensure the quality and safety of foods on a daily basis. This article discusses the purpose and importance of microbiological method validation studies and why the food industry should insist on validation study designs of maximum rigor and validity.

What is a microbiological method, and what exactly is a validation study?

A microbiological method, for the purposes of this discussion, is any microbiology test or assay used in the food industry. It may be a test for indicator organisms such as Coliforms or yeast and mold, pathogens such as Salmonella or E. coli O157, or toxins secreted by microorganisms such as Staphylococcal enterotoxin.

A validation study is a one-time study that food safety risk managers complete in order to assure themselves that a new microbiological method produces accurate results that will enable them to effectively measure and manage food safety risk. A validation study is conducted in the actual lab where testing will be performed, with current laboratory analysts, with the specific formulations of foods that are tested regularly.

Food industry regulators and certifying bodies such as SQF expect food producers to use microbiological test methods that are proven fit for use on specific foods. If we are to draw inferences about the fitness of a new test method on specific foods, then we must study how that new test method compares to an accepted reference method, or “gold standard” method. Reference methods are those written in the Food and Drug Administration’s Bacteriological Analytical Manual, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Laboratory Guidebook, or ISO methods. Regulators and experts agree that these methods represent the standard to which all other tests should measure up. Methods certified by the Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) are not considered reference methods and must be validated as fit for use on foods that are appreciably different from the matrices studied. Likewise, AOAC Performance Tested Method (PTM) and Official Methods of Analysis (OMA) certificates are not substitutes for internal validation studies in any given food plant.

In my experience working with quality labs across the United States, I have seen several different validation study designs used to evaluate alternative, more rapid and cost-effective microbiological methods. Some common validation study designs are shown in Table 1. Multiple alternative tests are available, however an internal validation study is needed regardless of the test kit manufacturer. Rarely does a validation study include a comparison to agar plates, which are required for almost every microbiological reference method. Material costs, labor costs, and emergency situations typically prohibit food labs from conducting a rigorous validation study that can speak to the performance of a new method in relation to the current gold standard.

Table 1: Scientific Questions Inherent in Food Microbiology Method Validation Study Designs 

 Validation Study Design  Inherent Scientific Question  Does Study Explain Performance
of New Test?
 
Test positive or spiked samples side by side on reference method and the new test  Does the test perform comparably to the reference method on my food? Yes 
Test positive or spiked samples on the new test  Regardless of accuracy, can the test detect certain or specific bacteria in my food?   No, but may be useful to understand workflow
Test any samples side by side on current AOAC certified method and new test  How do the new test’s results compare to my current AOAC certified method on my food?  No, but may be useful to understand workflow 
Test any positive or negative samples on the new test  Will the new test’s workflow improve my lab’s efficiency?  No, but may be useful to understand workflow 
This table presents several validation study designs common in the food industry and the scientific questions that are addressed by each design.

It is in the best interests of food producers and the public’s health to conduct rigorous validation studies that give food safety risk managers good information to make correct risk management decisions. In theory, some percentage of unsolved epidemiological foodborne illness clusters must be due to incorrect risk management decisions that allowed contaminated products to reach the market. At the same time, some percentage of all food lot rejections and recalls must be made incorrectly. A portion of these events must be related to food matrix interference that yielded incorrect microbiological results and caused the wrong risk management decision. As they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

In addition, including a comparison to agar reference methods in your microbiological method validation study is critical, as it reduces your chances of making an incorrect risk management decision.

Look at things this way: Plants certified with a GFSI accredited quality scheme have already put in effort to ensure analytical equipment such as thermometers and scales are calibrated. Similarly, validating microbiological methods against a reference method is equally if not more important. Finished product microbiology results inform decisions made every day that affect your profits and losses, and those results are likely a primary metric you use to study the effectiveness of your prerequisite programs and preventative controls.

Consider a quality lab that is using an alternative microbiological method that has not been rigorously validated with the plant’s specific foods. Unknown to the lab, the test results every day are twice as variable as the reference agar method and are frequently inaccurate relative to the plant’s product specifications. A rigorous method validation would demonstrate that results on the current method vary widely, while the same samples are consistent with a reference method. This well-intentioned plant is unknowingly making incorrect risk management decisions not just multiple times per year, but multiple times per week, either accidentally releasing contaminated product, reworking product that is acceptable, or disposing of perfectly good product. For the millions of dollars the food producer invests in prerequisite programs, preventative controls, quality personnel, and testing, the plant is unable to optimize their food safety risk management simply due to an unknown and overlooked incompatibility of the microbiological method with the plant’s product.

In my estimation, the costs of rigorously validating a microbiological method on all of your food products outweigh the potential hidden costs that could result from method incompatibility. The business case justifying the costs of a validation study are strong and compelling. And learning how to apply current microbiological methods specific to your foods is not as hard as you might think, considering the large host of test manufacturers, third-party labs, consultants, food safety extensions, and industry groups available to regularly provide study design education and services.