Tag Archives: food safety plan

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The Results Are In: FSMA Supply Chain IQ Test (Part II)

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Thank you to everyone who participated in our latest FSMA IQ test, which focused on the supply chain. This series was developed by Kestrel Management. If you have any questions about the results, we encourage you to leave a comment.

We also invite you to learn more about important supply chain issues at our Food Safety Supply Chain Conference later this month, May 29–30. You can attend in person or virtually.

If you haven’t taken Part II yet, take the Supply Chain IQ Test now.

And now for the results!

  1. Control limits must be included within the hazard analysis and preventive controls for HACCP.
    • FALSE. More clarification is needed here, as 96% of respondents said this is true.
  2. CCPs previously established under HACCP or previous hazard analysis may be a preventive control under FSMA.
    • TRUE. 91% got this right.
  3. Product testing for pathogen or indicator organism is not addressed under FSMA verification and reevaluation.
    • FALSE. 87% answered correctly.
  4. You must document justification of records not required by a food safety plan in a food operation under FSMA.
    • TRUE. Just 44% responded “true”.
  5. You must implement corrective actions and corrections properly, including procedures to address the presence of organizations in ready-to-eat as a result of product testing.
    • TRUE. Congratulations, 100% got this one right!
  6. Under section 117.150, you must implement corrective actions based on your determined response for all affected food as evaluated.
    • FALSE. This seems to be another area that needs clarity: Just 13% answered “false”.
  7. Under FSMA supply chain requirements, you must document approved suppliers.
    • TRUE. Once again, great job—100% answered correctly!
  8. A foreign supplier of food to the U.S. must ensure that all the requirements of a FSMA Food Safety Plan under cGMP117.126 be met for the manufacture of the food being exported to the United States.
    • TRUE. 91% knew this one.
  9. A food broker of foreign-supplied product to the U.S. does not have any responsibility of meeting the FSMA requirements.
    • FALSE. 91% answered correctly.
  10. Data sets must be shared between shippers, carriers, loaders & receivers to ensure rules are properly implemented.
    • TRUE. 74% answered correctly.
  11. Only the personnel of the carriers transporting food product require training and training records.
    • FALSE. 96% got this one right.
  12. Shipper & carrier can agree to a condition & temperature monitoring mechanism for foods that requires temperature control for safety.
    • TRUE. 91% answered correctly.

How ERP Can Help Ensure Food Safety in the Cannabis Edibles Market

By Daniel Erickson
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The popularity of cannabis edibles and infused beverages as a socially accepted and convenient method of marijuana consumption has grown exponentially for consumers in states with a legalized market for both recreational and medicinal cannabis. The edibles industry’s success has been met with many challenges however, as the absence of federal regulation has provided little guidance regarding food safety practices. With consumers generally expecting these products to have the same safety expectations as they do with other food and beverages they consume, many manufacturers have elected to follow FSMA best practices to ensure cannabis edibles’ integrity in the marketplace. Proactive cannabis growers, processors and dispensaries are seeking out ERP software solutions in greater numbers to utilize the technological tools and vendor experience in the food and beverage market to establish greater accountability and plan for current and future compliance requirements.

Cannabis Edibles Defined

Cannabis-derived edibles are food or beverage products that are made with cannabis or infused with cannabis extract—either consumed recreationally or to manage or alleviate health concerns. Cannabis extractions used in edibles include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychoactive, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not, as well as many derivatives when speaking of “whole plant” benefits. While there are a variety of edibles including gummies, candies, cookies, energy drinks, teas and chocolates, the defining characteristic of these products is that they are meant for human consumption. Public perception is that these products are held to the same safety and quality considerations as mainstream food and beverage products available in the market. With these expectations and lack of oversight, the responsibility falls on the manufacturer to meet those expectations and ensure a safe, consistent, quality edible product.

Safety and Quality Concerns

An unregulated industry at the federal level has resulted in a lack of consistency, predictability and safety in the edibles market. Frequently, it has been found that edibles don’t always produce the same experience from one consumption to the next, resulting from inconsistent appearance, taste, texture and potency. These variances pose a problem from a marketing perspective, as it impacts brand recognition, loyalty and returning customers. Similar to the food and beverage industry, foodborne illnesses, outbreaks, undeclared ingredients and inaccurate labeling provide further concern in an unregulated manufacturing environment. Specific safety issues of the cannabis industry include extraction processes, mold and bacteria growth, chemical exposure, pest and pesticide contamination, employee handling of products and the unintentional ingestion of cannabis edibles. With the high risks associated with this market, it is necessary for proactive growers, processors and dispensaries to adequately address quality and safety concerns that mitigate risk until the eventuality of regulatory oversight.

How ERP Can Help

Implementing an industry-specific ERP software solution that provides security and standardizes and automates business functions helps support cannabis manufacturers by providing the proper tools to track operations from seed-to-sale. With support for best practices and streamlined and documented processes, companies can incorporate safety and quality initiatives from cultivation to the sale of edible products and beyond. Utilizing the expertise of ERP vendors in the area of food safety management, edible manufacturers are provided with the same benefits that food and beverage companies have experienced for decades with ERP solutions. Cannabis ERP software allows your company to track all aspects of growing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and sales—providing functionality that manages inventory, traceability, recipes and labeling to support quality initiatives.

The following areas supported by ERP can lead cannabis edible manufacturers to succeed in the realm of food safety:

Inventory Control. ERP’s automatic recording and tracking of inventory attributes, including balances, expiration dates, plant tag ID’s, serial and lot numbers and end-to-end traceability, allows cannabis edible manufacturers to maintain appropriate raw material and product levels, reduce waste, evaluate inventory flow, facilitate rotation methods and avoid overproduction. It provides accurate ingredient and cost tracking throughout the greenhouse operations and supply chain by use of barcode scanning that links product information to batch tickets, shipping documents and labels. Maintaining real-time and integrated information facilitates the ability to locate items in the event of contamination or recall. This detailed level of continuous monitoring mitigates the risk of unsafe consumables entering the market.

Labeling. Accurate product labeling is essential for food safety in the cannabis edibles industry, and its importance cannot be understated. Proper labeling and transparency ensure that consumers are provided a consistent experience and also help to mitigate unintentional consumption of cannabis-infused products. Certain states have enacted labeling requirements to increase accountability and mitigate the misrepresentation of cannabis edibles on the label with unverified, misleading or inaccurate information. Employing an automated ERP system assists with label creation that includes nutrient analysis, ingredient and allergen statements, testing notification for bio-contaminants and pathogens and expiration dates to ensure quality—providing a faster and more efficient method for labeling. Accurate labeling is also an imperative component of product recall planning, as traceability and labeling history documented in ERP software helps to identify and locate items quickly in the event of a recall.

Recipe and Formulation Management. To achieve consistency of products in taste, texture, appearance, potency and intended results, complex recipe and formula management are maintained with a real-time ERP solution that delivers tightly managed control. Raw material data, version and revision information and production notes are documented for each batch. The monitoring of key quality specifications such as THC and CBD percentage, containment and impurities testing, etc. are readily handled within the system and allows for the scalability of recipes as needed. Direct access to the calculation of specific nutritional values, which includes ingredient and allergen information, provides accurate labeling and consumer information for product packaging—a valuable asset in the cannabis edibles market. R&D functionality supports the creation of new and innovative edibles and marijuana-infused beverages in a sandbox environment to meet the demands of this consumer-driven market.

Approved Supplier Relationships. Assurance of cannabis edible safety is enhanced through the acquisition of quality raw materials from trusted vendors. An ERP solution plays an essential role in the process as it maintains a supplier list by documenting detailed supplier information and test results to assure in-house qualifications and potency standards are met. A fully-integrated ERP system regulates quality control testing to ensure consistent and approved materials are being used and undeclared substances, harmful chemicals and impure ingredients are unable to infiltrate the supply chain. Failure to meet quality control standards results in ingredients being quarantined, removed from production and disposed of safely, and indicates that a search for alternate vendors is needed. This detailed level of documentation is a best practice for maintaining current and accurate supplier information in the event of a product recall.

Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). As the bedrock for the food and beverage industries, following cGMPs establishes an important foundation for the edibles market. An ERP efficiently documents processes to ensure safe and sanitary manufacturing, storage and packaging of food for human consumption. This includes monitoring equipment status, establishing cleaning and hygienic procedures, training employees, reporting illnesses, maintaining food and cannabis handling certifications and eliminating allergen cross-contact risks. Validating procedures within an ERP solution automates documentation of an audit trail and addresses food safety concerns more efficiently than manual methods.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Requirements. Establishing a food safety team that develops a HACCP plan to enact procedures that protect consumers from the biological, chemical and physical dangers of edibles is a recommended best practice for quality assurance, despite the current lack of federal regulations. Critical control points recorded within an ERP solution prevent and control hazards before food safety is compromised. Parameters within the ERP system can be utilized to identify potential hazards before further contamination can occur. Applying these best practices historically used by food and beverage manufacturers can provide an enhanced level of food safety protocols to ensure quality, consistent and safe consumables.

Food Safety Plan. As a requirement of FSMA, a food safety plan provides a systematic approach of identifying and addressing food safety hazards by implementing preventative food safety procedures throughout the manufacturing, processing, packing and storage of products. With a trained Preventative Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) at the helm to coordinate the company-specific plan, an ERP solution automates and records preventative controls, full forward and backward lot traceability, recall plans and employee training records within an integrated system to ensure that food safety policies and procedures are being followed.

With the growth of the edibles and infused beverage market expected to skyrocket over the next four years, the success of growers, processors and manufacturers will continue to thrive off of technological tools and established best practices. Employing the industry experience of ERP software providers that have implemented food safety and quality control procedures will follow suit of the market and be a sought-after resource when federal regulations are imposed. Proactive cannabis businesses are already experiencing a return on investment in their ability to provide quality, consistent products that meet cannabis enthusiasts’ high expectations and keep them ahead of this trending market.

Melody Ge, Kestrel Management
FST Soapbox

8 Tips to Food Safety Program Development for Small and Entrepreneurial Businesses

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Kestrel Management

The FSMA HARPC regulation has been in the implementation phase for approximately a year. Many small and entrepreneurial businesses are in the process of starting or finalizing the development of a food safety plan to comply with FSMA requirements. This includes program development, operational awareness and employee training. Often, small companies find this development more challenging compared to mature companies for several reasons, including a lack of resources or simply not knowing where to start.

The following eight tips can help small businesses that are developing a food safety plan to comply with FSMA.

1. Don’t be scared.

FSMA Preventive Controls is nothing scary. It is simply a series of food safety protocols and related documentation. It might seem overwhelming at the beginning with many documents and changes; however, it is actually a good method and tool to help strengthen operation lines and management.

FSMA helps businesses sustain and streamline processes. It is helpful to first map out the production process from the very beginning (when raw materials are received) through the end (when finished products leave the facility). The more details that are documented on the process, the easier and less time consuming it will be later to prevent potential risks.

2. Be familiar with the process and the FDA hazard types.

Once all processes are mapped, take time to study and get familiar with them. It will be helpful to have a team of individuals with different job functions review process maps together. The objectives are to identify the following:

  • Where is the weakness?
  • Where can weaknesses be controlled?
  • What should be monitored?
  • When is a good time to monitor each process step?

According to FDA, five hazard types need to be considered and prevented: Physical, chemical, biological, intentional adulteration and radiological. These five types should always be kept in mind when reviewing and analyzing the direct production and non-direct production processes.

3. Thoroughly understand the entire supply chain.

Supply chain management is one of the key preventive controls required by FSMA. Just like mapping out the process, FDA requires each business to have a thorough understanding and control of its supply chain to ensure the risks are minimized from raw materials to end consumers. Whether you have foreign suppliers, distribution centers or co-manufacturers, finished product safety must not be compromised by any party. If foreign suppliers are being used, FSVP (Foreign Supplier Verification Program) must be implemented and communicated to vendors.

4. Think in food safety mindset.

If your business has just been established, then congratulations! You have the opportunity to start everything right from the beginning. Take food safety into consideration throughout every step in the process and operation. Considering food safety aspects and preventing hazard types might help you make your next good business decision.

5. Get everyone involved!

Food safety is not only the food safety and quality departments’ responsibilities; it reflects the entire company’s operational structure—from building structure, security, production line, and supply chain to procurement, HR and finance. Get everyone involved, from top management to line workers. Their expertise, experiences and feedback will help the entire program’s implementation and execution. With the inputs from each department function, the food safety program will be more practical to the entire business operation and, therefore, will be more solid and sustained, especially when it comes to ongoing implementation.

6. Designate one project leader.

If FSMA program development is considered a project that the whole company engages in, a project leader is required to make the journey efficient and smooth. The leader needs to have both the company operational experience, as well as food safety knowledge. The leader plays an important role in leading the project, coordinating the timeline, prioritizing work across departments, and communicating with all levels of employees.

7. Keep everything documented and recorded.

Documentation and recordkeeping are core to the entire program. Say what you do by writing down all procedures, policies, programs and SOPs. Do what you say by demonstrating what is contained in all records kept onsite. This is not only for audit purposes, but also for your own business growth. Your own operation data is the best data to improve and modify your processes, if needed. Records can be used for trend study and analysis after years in business. Records can reveal whether methods or programs implemented are working effectively and helping the business. Records can also provide strong support/evidence when there is an unexpected event.

8. Utilize free third-party resources.

There are many technologies linking the entire world together—leverage them to learn from your peers. GFSI-recognized certification programs, such as SQF, FSSC22000 and IFS, are releasing a global market program to specifically help small business start their programs. Webinars and trainings are available on many program development and food safety hot topics to help address challenges, and there are many tools and templates available for download to assist with documentation and recordkeeping.

Although there are a lot of perspectives and aspects to be considered to comply with FSMA, compliance can be achieved one step at a time. Start by mapping out your own production process today.

What To Consider When Developing A Facility Food Safety Plan

By Adam Serfas
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No two facilities will have the same food safety plan, as each should address the specific needs of that facility. Before beginning your draft, there are several critical factors to consider. Use the guide below as a checklist to review before starting or revisiting your own food safety plan—the following tips can be applied to all food and beverage processors and manufacturers.

1. Review current legislation that applies to your industry

The food safety sector evolves rapidly. Keep your finger on the pulse of updates and changes, whether current or forthcoming, to ensure that your plan is current and up to code. You can quickly familiarize yourself with guidelines and regulatory bodies dealing with your industry with a handful of excellent resources. Generally, we recommend starting with the FDA website, and from there you can navigate to resources that are specific to your industry. We also recommend you make use of the FDA’s Food Safety Plan Builder to assist you in meeting requirements for Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Human Food regulation.

2. Identify current potential risks in your facility

Once familiar with your industry requirements and inspection standards, the next step is to identify any current potential food safety risks specific to your facility. Be sure to incorporate employees at all levels while detailing these potential hazards or concerns. Oftentimes, employees at the management level will make note of things different than employees working on the plant floor. And the delivery truck driver’s perspective will vary from those of your janitorial team. Aim to build a comprehensive list, noting everything from obvious high-risk areas, to what might be trivial or unlikely facility hazards. The more robust the list, the easier your food safety plan will be to form later on.

3. Consider your facility layout

Your facility’s physical layout often determines what type of food safety plan is necessary. Ask yourself:

  • Does your facility have natural zones?
  • Is it comprised of multiple buildings?
  • Are certain defined areas more high-risk than others?
    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll most likely want to incorporate a zone-based color-coding plan as a part of your food safety plan to ensure that all of your tools remain in their proper location and are used correctly.

4. Review the quality of your current tools
Take stock of your current tools, that includes everything used to make or process your product and everything required to clean the facility itself. Consider the tool quality—are these presentable and acceptable for an inspector to see? Do your brushes have loose bristles? Has your mop seen better days? Tools that are made of low-quality materials or are not in top shape present potential risks for a food-safe environment. Note which tools need to be replaced and perhaps consider incorporating color-coded tools if you have not yet done so, as they are a great way to step up your food safety practices and safeguard against cross contamination.

5. Review and communicate the food safety plan and training procedures

Review your current employee training materials –in particular, your cleaning and sanitation measures and food handling procedures–and hold a meeting to go over current training protocols with your team. Consider the following questions:

  • Are the expectations made clear?
  • Are there references to procedures that are no longer up to date?
  • Is there appropriate signage that can be readily referenced?
  • Is information available for non-native speakers?
  • Are the appropriate channels in place for employees to voice concerns about these training procedures?

Be sure to take notes on each of these items that need to be addressed. One of the most important pieces of a food safety plan – and something inspectors pay close attention to – is that it is properly communicated to all employees. Taking detailed notes as you discuss these procedures will be helpful in documenting your training methodology for the food safety plan and, of course, will help you to ensure that the training procedures themselves are the best they can be.

6. Consider the documentation requirements for your industry.

Your industry might require certain specific documentation for your food safety plan, which can include facility policies, procedures, safety review records, maps and more. Additionally, some governing bodies require that the food safety plan is completed by a certified individual who doesn’t necessarily need to be an employee of the facility. Review all necessary requirements to ensure that you satisfy all of these standards for your next inspection.

Should you have any questions when getting ready to start on your plan, we suggest you reach out to a company that specializes in color-coding tools, as they have experience in creating plans to accommodate all kinds of identified risks and can be a great resource.

Lin Mazurek, DNVGL
FST Soapbox

Where to Start on Your Company’s Food Safety Program

By Lin Mazurek
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Lin Mazurek, DNVGL

It’s 7 am and the canning plant is changing shifts. As the new quality assurance manager, you are looking at your to-do list and realize that the same topic has been at the top of the list all week: Food Safety Plan—a daunting topic but critical for the future success of the business and for the acknowledged safety of your company’s products being served in consumers homes.

Where to Begin?

For many companies, there are already procedures and common sense practices in place for sanitation, equipment cleaning and employee hygiene, to name a few. But that is not enough. As the quality assurance manager, you are looking to take food safety to the highest level, which includes selecting a food safety standard or scheme that will be audited by a certification body in order to claim that all-important food safety certification.

We talk to many start-ups, and emerging and expanding companies that are at the beginning of the certification process or are perhaps fine-tuning an existing plan. To assure success for a company at every step along the way, we have witnessed the most successful companies begin with a three-step process:

  • Assemble your food safety team, including top management
  • Research, implement and document a HACCP Plan
  • Select a food safety standard to guide the process along the way

Our customers use many resources to assist with a start-up food safety plan, to fine-tune an existing plan or to integrate new food products and processes into an existing plan. Here are their suggestions:

  1. Select a certification standard to follow: Companies are best served when they align their food safety program with a recognized standard. Each standard offers a structure to follow, documentation to track, and operational and functional guidelines to address to be “compliant” within the context of the segment of the industry they are tracking.
  2. Get organized: Every customer of ours talks about the challenge to get procedures, documentation and their HACCP plan organized. Checklists, provided on the website from standard holders, like BRC Global and SQF, offer details of processes and procedures to review in your own shop. Our technical staff recommends reviewing the published standard, line for line, to make sure your company has all of its bases covered prior to an audit. Many companies compile a digital record, or even a binder with paper printouts of validation and verification records, for documentation of critical control points. Both are acceptable to prove verification to a food safety auditor.
  3. Get industry and FDA/USDA advice: John Z, a food safety project manager at a food packaging company in Gurnee, IL started his company on the path to their food safety certificate with information from the FDA website and online conversations with industry colleagues. A large customer was mandating that John’s company acquire a food safety certification in order to continue to do business. That same customer was helpful in highlighting specific areas in a food safety plan that were critical to winning the business. John also reached out, via LinkedIn, to his industry community for advice and was both delighted and surprised at the wealth of information he was able to glean from asking general questions using the online format.
  4. Consultants: Consultants can be found by searching the Internet for the industry segment that your company operates in, whether it is food processing, storage and distribution or food packaging. When we asked Bill Bremer of Kestrel Management for the top three reasons to utilize a consultant, he commented:
    1. A good consultant can offer the “right-size compliance” for the food safety standard selected and the needs of the organization.
    2. The company’s people-resources can be reviewed for additional training, to assure that the organization has the talent in place to handle the verification and validation needed for a successful and comprehensive food safety management system.
    3. Consultants are an efficient resource to assist an organization to manage changes in products, processes and regulatory requirements and to update HACCP and FSMA plans. Bill commented that about 80% of HACCP plans he reviews are… like a lot of food, “overdone or underdone!”
      Consultants work on a contract basis that can be scaled to the needs of the organization. References are often offered or requested to get an independent voice on the credentials of the consultant.
  5. Industry Associations: Most industries have an industry association affiliated with their product or process. Typically a membership-based approach offers many benefits to the members for event participation, resources and shared information. Non-members often can sign up for newsletters or association announcements.
  6. State Extension Services: State governments have detailed information and free resources on their public health websites, pertaining to local food safety processing and handling regulations. As part of a company’s HACCP plan to comply with local regulations, these resources are specific to your site and must be followed according to local codes and business licenses.

A comprehensive and effective food safety program is not an option, it is a necessity. The liability your organization assumes for consumer complaints or health safety recalls would be financially devastating to most companies. Your time and effort in designing, implementing and maintaining such a program assures your organization that customers, consumers and your bottom line are protected.

Lance Roberie, D.L. Newslow
FST Soapbox

Can You Defend Your Food Safety Plan?

By Lance Roberie
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Lance Roberie, D.L. Newslow

As a food safety plan manager, do you ever get asked these questions regarding your food safety plan: What was your thought process for making this decision? Why do you do it this way? How do you answer this?

And, do you ever answer with one of the following statements:

  • I’m not sure? What do you mean?
  • That’s the way it has always been.
  • Our customer asked us to do it that way.
  • That’s what our last auditor recommended.
  • We make a low-risk product.

If this is one of your answers, defending your food safety plan may be a challenge. There is a major shift taking place in the world of food safety. With the implementation of FSMA Preventive Controls, the widespread adoption of GFSI audits, along with advanced technologies such as rapid pathogen and allergen detection, whole genome sequencing, and transparency efforts such as Blockchain, as well as with the increasing use of social media and access of information via the internet, food industry professionals are more educated and informed than ever before and ready to challenge your every move. As a food safety plan manager, you and your team must be ready! Being prepared to defend your food safety plan can be the difference between a recall and a routine audit. If you cannot fully explain the reasoning behind your decision-making, then how will you be able to prove that you are in complete control and are being proactive against food safety hazards? It will not be easy.

You must be ready to defend each and every part of your food safety plan. You must be able to defend questions and challenges with certainty and facts. Every decision made in your hazard analysis should be written down and backed with factual evidence whenever possible. Even the “none identified” areas should be backed by strong reasoning if no other factual evidence is available. You can use the data that you collect daily to help justify your decisions. Data collected from your prerequisite programs (ATP swab results, allergen cleaning validations, GMP audit findings, pest control trends, etc.) and food safety plan (CCP’s, validations, verifications) is all support for your decisions. Have this on file and ready to review when necessary.

If something looks out of the ordinary in your plan, make sure you can fully explain it and can back it with solid justification. If not, auditors, regulators, customers, etc. may start to become suspicious, which can lead to unwanted questions. You will then oftentimes start to get suggestions for change based on others’ individual expertise. Regulators may make “strong suggestions” for changes, for instance, and some people will just go along with it to avoid the pushback or because they simply don’t have a better solution. If this happens, soon your plan is no longer yours—it’s everyone’s. Some of these suggestions may be good, but is it really the right change for your plan? If not, it will often make the plan less rational and often difficult to defend.

The following are tips to help you avoid this situation.

  1. Meet with your food safety team regularly. Go through each part of your food safety plan and figure out how to answer the “why’s”. Why are things done this way? Why did we decide if this hazard was significant or not? Have annual reviews to make sure your plan is still functioning as originally intended and review new industry trends to be proactive regarding new potential hazards.
  2. Write a process narrative. Writing a process narrative documenting what happens at each step of your process and explaining your “thought process” for making decisions is a great support tool. It gives your team a chance to elaborate on the “justification” column in the hazard analysis, providing more decision-making details without crowding the hazard analysis form.
  3. Gather supporting documents. Scientific studies, guidance documents, expert opinions, etc. are vital pieces to have in your supporting documents library. Make sure it is appropriate for your individual products and the documents are from reputable sources, such as FDA, USDA, universities, process authorities, etc. Oh, and don’t forget about history! A reputable supplier with a long track record of safe product, a low history of recalls for the products you produce, etc. can help justify your decision-making.
  4. Conduct Internal Audits. Having an internal audit schedule and well-trained internal auditors help with finding inconsistencies within your program and allow you to make corrections before outside parties find these issues.
  5. Prepare. Have a “mock audit” and prepare for questions that are commonly asked during audits. Practice your answers and make sure you have supporting evidence when needed. Stay up-to-date with industry trends, especially common audit non-conformances.
  6. Be organized. It’s great to have all the supporting documents that you need, but if you cannot find them, then you just as well have nothing.
  7. Be confident. People, especially experienced auditors and inspectors, can quickly sense fear and lack of confidence. This often prompts more questions. Knowledge is power, and knowledge also builds confidence. Simply put, the more knowledgeable you are about your food safety plan, the more confident you will be when someone is trying to test you.
  8. Continuously Improve. It’s understandable that mistakes will be made. However, the next logical question you will be asked is: What did you do about it? Remember, for every nonconformance you find in your system, there should be a correction or corrective and preventive action to address it. It must not simply restate the problem, but legitimately correct the issue. This will give regulators, auditors, customers and anyone else looking at your system confidence that you are in control and can provide a consistently safe product.
Bill Bremer is Principal, Food Safety Compliance at Kestrel Management LLC
FST Soapbox

FSMA Checklist: Foreign Supplier Verification Program Requirements

By Bill Bremer
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Bill Bremer is Principal, Food Safety Compliance at Kestrel Management LLC

As all the FSMA rules move to enforcement status, food companies must prepare to best respond to requirements and, correspondingly, to develop required programs such as the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) rule. The FSVP requires impacted companies to document specific verification steps to satisfy regulations and meet foreign-supplied shipment information requirements. These requirements took effect on May 30, 2017 for companies importing certain food products to the United States.

How much do you know about FSVP? Test your smarts by taking the FSMA FSVP IQ Test here Ultimately, the purpose of the FSVP is to document the shipping paperwork necessary to provide evidence and verification that a foreign supplier’s food-grade product shipped to a U.S. customer meets the requirements of FSMA. A company’s FSVP may include providing an additional level of evidence that the foreign company distributes safe foreign-supplied food products to the United States, the qualification of these suppliers, verification of supplier and shipment information, and records to verify the shipment of all imported food under FSMA and food safety plans. This information provides the U.S. customer receiving the product necessary proof of compliance and a record that the foreign-supplied material meets imported food product requirements.

Self-Diagnostic Assessment Tool

The following self-diagnostic assessment tool can help organizations better determine their current state of planning when it comes to implementing and managing FSMA FSVP requirements. To complete your own assessment, review and compare your programs to the questions in Table I.

FSMA, Foreign Supplier Verification Program
Table I. Kestrel Management’s self-diagnostic tool can help a company assess its Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) for FSMA compliance.

Get Compliance-Ready

Companies must have the appropriate systems in place to comply with FSMA FSVP requirements or face possible willful non-conformance, which can include fines and criminal penalties under FDA enforcement. The questions above will help companies identify areas to consider regarding their FSVP programs. Kestrel can also help answer questions, provide input on solutions, discuss how to better manage all your food safety requirements, and change “No” responses into “Yes” responses that promote best practices for FSMA and food safety compliance.

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

Are You Ready for an FDA Inspection?

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

Don’t miss the Plenary Mock Food Safety Trial: Sam I Am who made Green Eggs and Ham is represented by Shawn Stevens vs. Food Safety victims represented by Bill Marler. Judged by Steve Sklare | November 30 at the 2017 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreWith 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)?
  4. 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).
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Dr. Douglass Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories
Food Genomics

Microbiomes a Versatile Tool for FSMA Validation and Verification

By Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., Gregory Siragusa
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Dr. Douglass Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories

The use of genomics tools are valuable additions to companies seeking to meet and exceed validation and verification requirements for FSMA compliance (21 CFR 117.3). In this installment of Food Genomics, we present reasons why microbiome analyses are powerful tools for FSMA requirements currently and certainly in the future.

Recall in the first installment of Food Genomics we defined a microbiome as the community of microorganisms that inhabit a particular environment or sample. For example, a food plant’s microbiome includes all the microorganisms that colonize a plant’s surfaces and internal passages. This can be a targeted (amplicon sequencing-based) or a metagenome (whole shotgun metagenome-based) microbiome. Microbiome analysis can be carried out on processing plant environmental samples, raw ingredients, during shelf life or challenge studies, and in cases of overt spoilage.

As a refresher of FSMA requirements, here is a brief overview. Validation activities include obtaining and evaluating scientific and technical evidence that a control measure, combination of control measures, or the food safety plan as a whole, when properly implemented, is capable of effectively controlling the identified microbial hazards. In other words, can the food safety plan, when implemented, actually control the identified hazards? Verification activities include the application of methods, procedures, tests and other evaluations, in addition to monitoring, to determine whether a control measure or combination of control measures is or has been operating as intended, and to establish the validity of the food safety plan. Verification ensures that the controls in the food safety plan are actually being properly implemented in a way to control the hazards.

Validation establishes the scientific basis for food safety plan process preventive controls. Some examples include using scientific principles and data such as routine indicator microbiology, using expert opinions, conducting in-plant observations or tests, and challenging the process at the limits of its operating controls by conducting challenge studies. FSMA-required validation frequency first includes before the food safety plan is implemented (ideally), within the first 90 calendar days of production, or within a reasonable timeframe with written justification by the preventive controls qualified individual. Additional validation efforts must occur when a change in control measure(s) could impact efficacy or when reanalysis indicates the need.

FSMA requirements stipulate that validation is not required for food allergen preventive controls, sanitation preventive controls, supply-chain program, or recall plan effectiveness. Other preventive controls also may not require validation with written justification. Despite the lack of regulatory expectation, prudent processors may wish to validate these controls in the course of developing their food safety plan. For example, validating sanitation-related controls for pathogen and allergen controls of complex equipment and for how long a processing line can run between cleaning are obvious needs.

There are many routine verification activities expected of FSMA-compliant companies. For process verification, validation of effectiveness, checking equipment calibration, records review, and targeted sampling and testing are examples. Food allergen control verification includes label review and visual inspection of equipment; however, prudent manufacturers using equipment for both allergen-containing and allergen-free foods should consider targeted sampling and testing for allergens. Sanitation verification includes visual inspection of equipment, with environmental monitoring as needed for RTE foods exposed to the environment after processing and before packaging. Supply-chain verification should include second- and third-party audits and targeted sampling and testing. Additional verification activities include system verification, food safety plan reanalysis, third-party audits and internal audits.

Verification procedures should be designed to demonstrate that the food safety plan is consistently being implemented as written. Such procedures are required as appropriate to the food, facility and nature of the preventive control, and can include calibration of process monitoring and verification instruments, and targeted product and environmental monitoring testing.

FSMA, One Year Later: Top 5 Things We’ve Learned

By Erika Miller
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Now that the first of the FSMA compliance dates have passed, let’s look back at the past year of training new PCQIs, their questions and concerns from classes as well as the perspective from our FDA friends (yes, really!) who attended our workshops. We have learned so much, it is hard to narrow it down to only five things—but if we look at the issues that arose, the following five proved to be recurring themes throughout 2016.

5. Don’t Scrap Your Current Plan

Many clients have approached us and said they were planning to throw their current food safety and/or HACCP plan in the trash and start from scratch. Please don’t do this! Companies that care about quality and food safety already have effective quality management systems in place. It would be a disservice to the company and the general public for all these time-tested plans to go straight into the bin. It is more realistic to take a look at the current system in light of the new regulation and ask yourself if there are any gaps that can be addressed. This brings us to the next point.

4. Education Is Key

A compliant system cannot be developed without an understanding of the requirements. Although FSMA is derived from the basic principles of HACCP, there are key differences, and not all of them in the direction of less regulation. It is important to understand not only the updated Good Manufacturing Practices and Preventive Controls for both Human and Animal food, but also the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, Sanitary Transportation and the Produce Rule (if they apply). Although the FDA-recognized curriculum for some of these companion regulations have not yet been released, some independent training providers are offering workshops to help fill the gap while the FDA and FSPCA are working on the official curriculum. (Comment on this article for more information via email).

3. “You Must Evaluate If You Need It” Is Not the Same as “You Don’t Need It”

Some training providers have told their attendees that they can scrap many of their current systems because FSMA is less stringent than GFSI-approved schemes. Your certification body for FSSC 22000, SQF or BRC does not care one whit how stringent FSMA is (as long as you are compliant with its requirements, as local regulatory compliance is a key factor in GFSI approval). FSMA will not change expectations related to the GFSI-approved food safety schemes. It is also misleading to think that because FSMA is flexible, FDA regulators will not have expectations of excellence when they arrive at food processing facilities. This law gives regulators the power to take legal actions to address many infractions they have seen over the years but have been powerless to stop; the flexibility may well be a double-edged sword in that regard. Ensure that all decisions are based on data and records exist to validate any claims.