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food safety tech

Food Labs/Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference Includes FDA Comments on Proposed Lab Accreditation Rule

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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food safety tech

Next month join Food Safety Tech and Cannabis Industry Journal for the virtual conference, Food Labs / Cannabis Labs. The event is complimentary for attendees and will be held Tuesday, June 2 through Friday, June 5 (each day the event begins at 11 am ET). The event was originally planned as an in-person event but was converted to a virtual conference as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event kicks off with FDA’s comments on the proposed FSMA laboratory accreditation rule, which will be presented by FDA’s Timothy McGrath and Donald Burr. Other session highlights include FSMA’s impact on labs; navigating the regulatory pitfalls of cannabis lab testing; the evolution of the lab testing market; documentary standards and reference materials; and vulnerability assessment frameworks and food fraud mitigation strategies. Many of the educational sessions will be followed by Tech Talks, which will be provided by sponsors in the laboratory technology or service provider fields, who will educate attendees about solutions that can assist in the food lab and/or cannabis lab environment.

More than 500 people have already registered to attend! Don’t miss this unique opportunity and register now. Please note that only registrants who attend the live event will have access to the recording.

For companies interested in Tech Talk opportunities, Contact RJ Palermo (203-667-2212). Tuesday and Wednesday are sold out.

Frank Yiannas, FDA, food safety

2020 Food Safety Consortium Keynote Speaker Announced: Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Frank Yiannas, FDA, food safety

EDGARTOWN, MA, January 22, 2020 – Innovative Publishing Company Inc., publisher of Food Safety Tech, has announced that Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at FDA, will serve as the keynote speaker for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo on October 21. The Consortium is the industry’s leading food safety event for networking and educational opportunities, and takes place October 21–23 in Schaumburg, IL (just outside Chicago).

“At last year’s Food Safety Consortium, Frank Yiannas spoke about the ‘sea change’ happening at FDA and the increased efforts on the part of the agency to drive more transparency and traceability. We look forward to his insights, as well as learning more about FDA’s progress on its initiatives, especially the New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo.

This year’s Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo features three breakout tracks: Food Safety, chaired by Angela Anandappa, Ph.D., founding director of the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation; Food Integrity, chaired by Steven Sklare, president of The Food Safety Academy; and Food Defense, chaired by Jason Bashura, senior manager, global food defense at PepsiCo.

The call for abstracts is open until March 2, 2020.

Food Safety Consortium, Frank Yiannas, FDA
Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy & response, addresses the ways that the public and private sector must work together as part of the agency’s initiative, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety during the 2019 Food Safety Consortium.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy. The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

With the passage of the Farm Bill, there has been a great deal of interest from the food industry in cannabis-infused foods and beverages, which includes hemp and CBD. The Food Safety Consortium is co-located with The Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo, an educational and networking event for cannabis safety and quality solutions. Serving the Midwest market with a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the Cannabis Quality Conference enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical in finding solutions to improve regulatory compliance, quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in a quickly evolving cannabis marketplace. Both conference programs run concurrently, thus, Food Safety Consortium registrants can attend any of the Cannabis Quality Conference presentations and vice versa. This year’s event takes place October 21–23 in Schaumburg, IL and is co-located with the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo.

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ImEpik and Food Safety Tech Partner on Agreement for PCQI Online Training

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 27, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., Inc., publisher of Food Safety Tech, has entered into a reseller agreement with ImEpik, an online training company that serves food manufacturers globally. Food Safety Tech will serve as a reseller of ImEpik’s PCQI online training course as per training that is required under FSMA.

“I’m pleased to announce our partnership with ImEpik, as it allows us to expand our efforts in giving the industry access to resources that are critical to food safety education and training,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo.

“Our ten-module online training program ensures that Preventive Control Qualified Individuals are proficient in the standards that are required under FSMA,” said Laura Lombard, CEO of ImEpik. “Providing compliance training in an online capacity also saves our ‘students’ time and money, as they can take the course any time and anywhere, without having to travel away from their job.”

As part of the partnership, the training will be offered at a reduced rate for professionals who also register to attend the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, an annual industry event held October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL. Full conference registration that includes PCQI training starts at $845 with the early bird discount. After September 13, the cost of the full conference registration with PCQI training is $995.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

About IMEPIK

IMEPIK is a market-driven, and research-based online training company, facilitates food safety training for food manufacturers around the world. With an emphasis on accessible and innovative training, ImEpik offers a unique advantage in providing effective training for you, your employees, your association members, or your clients to ensure food safety compliance and best practices. We offer Preventive Controls courses that include the “standardized curriculum” recognized by the FDA.

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Food Safety Tech, Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo Announce Partnership with Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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EDGARTOWN, MA, Jan. 18, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., the publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, has announced a partnership with the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation. Angela Anandappa, Ph.D., director of the organization, will also be joining the Food Safety Tech and Food Safety Consortium Advisory Board. As part of this role, Anandappa will be a key resource on topics related to sanitation and will serve as chairperson for the Sanitation track at the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, ensuring the presentations are relevant, accurate and balanced.

Angela Anandappa, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation
Angela Anandappa, director, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

“The collaboration with Angela Anandappa and the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation is a significant enhancement to the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo. “Angela brings a wealth of experience in food safety and molecular diagnostics, especially in her role developing programs that tackle hygienic design and sanitation issues.”

As a partner organization, members of the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation will also receive a discount to attend the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo in October.

“I look forward to working with Rick and his team at Food Safety Tech and the Consortium event to help industry further understand the issues we face in sanitation, the advances necessary for success and how we can share best practices,” said Anandappa, who is also a research assistant professor with the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

About the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

The Alliance for Advance Sanitation’s research, extension and teaching activities engage university of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty and address the needs and interests of the private sector partners. The overall goal of these activities is to develop improved sanitation practices that can be implemented by the food processing and affiliated industries. The Alliance’s mission is to create a safer food supply through advanced sanitation approaches and practices.

Shannon Cooksey, MS, PMP, Senior Director, Science Program Management at the Grocery Manufacturers Association

Food Safety Consortium Sneak Peek – Food Defense Rule

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Shannon Cooksey, MS, PMP, Senior Director, Science Program Management at the Grocery Manufacturers Association

The Food Safety Modernization Act is the first instance of codified food defense regulations. This discussion is a hard look at the proposed food defense requirements and examining what compliance may look like. 

At the upcoming Food Safety Consortium, to be held November 17-18 in Schaumburg, IL, Shannon Cooksey, MS, PMP, Senior Director, Science Program Management at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), will address the key takeaways associated with the proposed regulation.

Following this presentation, Sarah Sunday from Kraft will talk about challenges the industry will face in implementing the rule as written and how the industry currently addresses food safety.

In a chat with Food Safety Tech, Cooksey provides a sneak-peek into her presentation.

FST: How are Food Defense requirements evolving under proposed FSMA rules?

Cooksey: GMA led industry in developing comments on the proposed Food Defense rule earlier this year, specifically focusing two things: one, food defense is different from preventive controls and two, food defense cannot be prescriptive—it needs to be tied to a facility-specific risk evaluation. While FDA has not yet re-proposed new food defense language as part of the supplementals released on September 29 of this year, we have good reason to believe that FDA has shifted some of its positions in light of our comments. We also believe another opportunity to submit comments on a food defense supplemental proposal, similar to what was done with Preventive Controls, would be a valuable use of time for both the industry and the Agency as they move towards issuance of a final food defense rule in May of 2016.

FST: What are some things that companies need to keep in mind to be prepared to comply with these requirements?

Cooksey: While this is the first time food defense is being proposed as a regulation, there are already some existing training materials available to industry to begin developing food defense plans. Since the requirement to have someone specially trained in food defense will likely be part of the final rule, GMA recommends that companies start early and take advantage of the available materials already available. GMA and the GMA Science and Education Foundation are planning to release additional materials and courses in 2015.

FST: Who should attend this discussion, and how would they benefit from it?

Cooksey: Security specialists at the facility and corporate level regulatory affairs staff who oversee food defense and/or FSMA within their companies should attend. Also, food quality assurance and food safety managers will need to know how the food defense plan will work in combination with food safety plans.

Click here for more information on the Food Safety Consortium, and learn from over 75 of the Food Industry’s top food safety SMEs.

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

What To Expect When Expecting

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

Childbirth and FDA inspections have a lot in common. Both are, in their most basic form, a natural part of life, both can be exceptionally strenuous while occurring and both, when finished, typically result in the highest form of extreme happiness and joy. But, more on that in a moment.

With the recent arrival of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Congress has tasked FDA with the enormous responsibility of substantially improving the overall safety of our national food supply. To accomplish this goal, the new law imposes significant new legal (and, by extension) regulatory requirements on the food industry, and gives FDA a wide-range of incredible new powers and authority to enforce the new standards.  In turn, FDA will begin using those new powers in future food safety inspections to ensure that all food companies have implemented comprehensive, science-based written food safety plans, and have satisfied the long list of additional new mandates.

So, what can we expect when expecting?

Well, there is a great deal of apprehension in the industry. We all know that FDA is coming, but many companies are not quite sure what will happen when FDA finally arrives. Not a single company has yet to experience its first “FSMA inspection” and, as a result, the industry is, in part, begging for some help on how to better prepare for the arrival of this new, perhaps life-changing, event.  

We are here to help.

The first, and most important, step in getting ready for your first FSMA inspection is appropriately managing the broad range of emotions you will likely feel. Rather than being apprehensive, or resisting the inevitable, I recommend that my clients “embrace” the inescapable conclusion that FDA is coming to their facility. Like childbirth, the presence of FDA is now, or will soon become, and integral a part of their life. And, whether they like it or not, they have to prepare.

The second thing I tell my clients is that it’s okay to be at least a little apprehensive. It’s okay not to know what to expect. And, we’re here to help on that front too.

We understand, of course, that an FDA inspection can be a long and laborious process. For some, it will be downright excruciating. For others, it will instill a complete and total sense of helplessness.  

Although we all anticipate and hope that the process will end quickly and without complication, sometimes things can and will go wrong. There may be yelling, and we may even be asked, when things become really tense, to control our breathing. And, of course, sometimes, the process takes longer than we expected, and sometimes emergencies will happen. In these cases, stress builds, apprehension grows and panic, even if only briefly, may set in. Before it is over, you might even experience some chaos and, perhaps, a bit of confusion.

But, eventually, the tension subdues. And, like the incredible and indescribable joy and adulation that accompanies the arrival of a new life, so too is the overwhelming happiness that exists when the FDA compliance officers leave your facility — and are walking to their cars.

So, the first and most important lesson to master when you are truly “expecting” is to embrace the process, understand that it is a fact of life, know that it will eventually happen, and that it’s okay to be just a little bit scared. The second lesson you should embrace is to begin planning for the arrival of that inevitable day now. And, we stand ready to help there too.

In our next post, we will begin to explore why FDA is coming, and what FDA will “expect” when it arrives.

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

When FDA Comes Knocking…

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

When you made the decision to work in the food industry, you also agreed to shoulder the incredible and important responsibility of feeding a nation. Put another way, you have given your own personal commitment, on a daily basis, to ensure that the food you are producing is as safe and wholesome as it can be.

In addition to this tremendous commitment and responsibility, you also agreed, whether you like it or not, to subject yourself to intense regulation and oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (“FDA”). Thus, if you have not yet had the opportunity to become intimately familiar with FDA, chances are that in the coming months and years, you will. Put simply, FDA is coming.

So, what does that mean?  That . . . “they’re coming…”

As you might recall, the phrase began its life as a line in a very scary 1982 movie called Poltergeist. And, in many respects, it encompasses what we are (or, will be) experiencing in the future as a regulated industry with the FDA in our mirror.

With food safety awareness increasing nationally among consumers and the media, and with the recent passage of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA has been directed (and has consequently pledged) to begin inspecting food processors more often, more closely and more intimately. For this reason, whether you like it or not, you need to embrace the fact that in the coming months and years you will be closely … well, “haunted” by FDA.

Now that we have established that FDA is coming, what can (or should) we do about it? Well, just like in Poltergeist, locking the doors won’t help. Neither will closing the widows, dropping the shades, or completely ignoring the problem. And, no matter what, don’t go into the basement.

But, there are a number of things that can (and should) be done. Understanding that your next FDA inspection is unavoidable, and it will happen, it is absolutely critical to begin a dialogue today on what to expect, and how you should react, when it does.

Thus, in the following series of coming posts, we will walk you through the FDA inspection process, help you understand what to expect when it occurs, and give you advice on how to best respond.  We will examine closely the reasons why FDA may visit your facility, the purposes for which it is there, the things it will expect to see, and what you should be doing now to get ready.

Although some may consider this a “ghost” of challenge, we hope that we can provide greater transparency to FDA inspection process. With a little help, and some basic planning, there is no doubt in my mind you will survive.

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

To Test Or Not To Test?

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

In recent years, the federal government has become increasingly aggressive in its investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks, its inspections of food processing facilities, and its food safety enforcement activities. Notably, the federal government’s recent full-court, food safety press has been driven, in large part, by the increased visibility and awareness of food safety in the media and among consumers.

As FDA has been given additional food safety authority in recent years, the USDA has stepped up its game as well. Not wanting to be left behind, perhaps, USDA has begun focusing more aggressively on possible connections between slaughter establishments and outbreaks or positive regulatory ground beef samples. Under the Systems Tracking E. coli O157:H7 – Positive Suppliers (STEPS) framework, for instance, USDA will often take action against slaughter establishments that repeatedly appear in the STEPS system. This can take many forms, ranging from intensified environmental pathogen sampling to a Food Safety Assessment (FSA) for cause.

If USDA decides to conduct environmental pathogen sampling to “test” a company’s preventative controls or its compliance with the regulations, that company is always welcome to take its own “companion” or “sister” samples. With that said, I do not believe there is any benefit to actually doing it.

If an USDA environmental sample tests positive, the agency will not care whether a companion sample tests negative. Contamination is not always distributed evenly, and testing sensitivities will often vary. Thus, FSIS will in all instances treat its own result as a “positive finding.”

The same general rules apply with respect to environmental sampling, whether being conducted by USDA or FDA, for other pathogens like Salmonella or Listeria. In the event of a positive, the government will likely not care about a negative companion sample collected by the company, and will rely on its own results. Moreover, what happens if the agency sample tests negative, and the companion sample collected by the company tests positive? I have seen it happen many times.

Thus, here too, I do not see any compelling benefit, nor do I counsel my clients, to always collect companion samples. Moreover, if they elect not to do so, it also avoids the complexities of determining whether to hold, test or even destroy companion samples in the event a governmental sample ultimately tests negative.

With that said, if a company thinks that it may someday want to take companion samples when USDA or FDA performs its own environmental testing, I would strongly urge that the company adopt a written policy governing the specific circumstances under which such samples will be taken. This, of course, would apply to both FSIS environmental and finished product sampling.

Such a policy should clearly define the limited circumstances under which companion samples will be collected, and state that those samples will ONLY be tested in the event of a FDA or USDA positive. In this regard, the policy should articulate that the company will rely upon the governmental findings (and it really has no choice), while at the same time setting forth the justification for performing companion testing (i.e., in the event of a finished product regulatory positive to assist in the determination of the ultimate source). The policy should also make clear, however, that if the FDA or USDA sample tests negative, the companion sample will be discarded within a set period of time (i.e., 24 hours).

If a company adopts such a policy, and then closely follows that policy, it should be able to avoid any second-guessing from the agency (or a trial lawyer in a future lawsuit) if a subsequent issue arises or a recall later occurs. Moreover, assuming the policy provides the underlying justification for the protocol to be followed (which it should), I also think any moral obligation to test a companion sample in the event of an agency negative simply falls away.

Increasingly, companies will find themselves in circumstances where the federal government is demanding to take environmental or finished product samples. Think twice, in those circumstances, about whether a “companion” sample is really your friend.

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

Food Safety Labeling – Putting Rare Steak On The Chopping Block

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

Like most people, I enjoy a good steak.  

I have also found that, in recent years, my options for good, quality steaks have increased significantly, as food processors and restaurant chains look for ways to distinguish themselves and their products. Industry has moved toward more value-added products, such as mechanically tenderized steaks, using needles to soften the meat and even to inject marinade. Indeed, I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of steaks now consumed in restaurants are mechanically tenderized.

The use of such technologies, however, creates additional food safety challenges not present in non-tenderized products. This is because, to the extent there is any possible pathogenic contamination present on the exterior of a steak, the process of mechanical tenderization can push that contamination deep into the product, where it becomes more difficult to destroy through cooking.

With that backdrop, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now becoming more involved in helping educate end-users on the risks associated with mechanically tenderized products. In particular, USDA has published new proposed rules requiring meat processors to properly label any mechanically tenderized meat products they sell. These new rules will likely have two effects: (1) they may make mechanically-tenderized rare or medium rare steaks nearly impossible to sell; and (2) they may drive the vast majority of these products out of the food service market.  

Here’s why. In addition to requiring processors to label these products as “mechanically tenderized,” USDA will also require processors to include validated cooking instructions which, if followed, will ensure that any harmful pathogens in these products are destroyed. The question, then, for industry will be whether cooking mechanically tenderized steaks to the higher temperatures needed to kill foodborne pathogens will prevent them in most cases from being served “rare” or even “medium rare.”  

To justify its new rules, USDA has cited a number of recent outbreaks caused by mechanically tenderized steaks. According to USDA, since the year 2000, there have been a total of six E. coli O157:H7 foodborne illness outbreaks attributable to mechanically tenderized steaks served in restaurants and consumer homes. These six outbreaks, spanning 13 years, have included a total of 176 confirmed E. coli O157:H7 cases that resulted in 32 hospitalizations and 4 cases of HUS (acute renal failure).  

While you can decide for yourself whether such a substantial change in the labeling of steak products is warranted by the fewer than 15 cases reported annually since 2000, what we do know is that the labeling rules are changing fast, and serving mechanically-tenderized medium rare steaks in restaurants may no longer be a legal option. Time (and temperature), of course, will tell. Ultimately, this is because whether the term “medium rare” survives will depend upon the validation studies governing any new labeling. USDA’s rules will require validated instructions to include, at a minimum: (1) the method of cooking; (2) a minimum internal temperature validated to ensure that potential pathogens are destroyed throughout the product; (3) whether the product needs to be held for a specified time at that temperature before consumption; and (4) an instruction that the internal temperature should be measured by the use of a thermometer. 

In turn, processors will need to demonstrate to USDA that the instructions are also “scientifically supported,” meaning they must demonstrate that: (a) the cooking instructions can repeatedly achieve the desired minimum internal temperature and, if applicable, rest time; and (b) the minimum internal time and, if applicable, rest time achieved by the instructions will ensure that the product is fully cooked to a level designed to destroy any potential pathogens throughout the product. On the other side of the coin, even if processors could properly validate their cooking instructions, it may be that we see some major restaurant chains shift away from using these products altogether.

Indeed, once the new labeling requirements go into effect, then restaurants will have a difficult decision to make: comply with the labeling instructions, or ignore them?Responsible restaurant chains will, of course, determine that they need to comply with the instructional labels. This is because the instructions, themselves, anticipate (or, at least warn) that the product at issue could possibly contain pathogens and thus must be cooked to a predetermined temperature in order to render that product safe for consumption. If those instructions are ignored, however, and a customer becomes sick (or, even dies, as a result), that company could be exposed to significant punitive damages for disregarding a known risk. Thus, the only responsible course will be to either:  (1) refine internal policy to ensure that all such products are cooked to the recommended temperatures; or (2) to purchase steaks that are not mechanically or needle tenderized. There really will be no other options.

So, the most likely longer term result, in my opinion, may be that the restaurant industry will begin to move away from needle or mechanically-tenderized products, unless and until those products can be subjected to processing interventions (like irradiation) that will allow the end users to prepare and then serve them somewhere south of well-done.  

So, if you like selling or serving (or, I suppose, eating) steaks that can be cooked medium rare, you may want to watch these new rules closely. In in the end, “medium rare” may become much more rare you think.

Shawn K. Stevens, Food Industry Counsel
Food Safety Attorney

Brand Protection Requires More Than Wishful Thinking

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

We have learned in recent years that, if you work in the food industry, it’s not a matter of “if” your products will be associated with a recall, it’s really a matter of “when.”

Indeed, lurking somewhere in the darkest corner of a hot box, in the silent throes of a sales cooler, or in a case-ready package being staged for delivery, there are a few colonies of pathogenic bacteria waiting patiently for their chance to wreak havoc in our business and lives.

For more than a decade, our firm has worked closely helping the meat industry with crisis management, regulatory response and complex litigation following large-scale outbreaks and recalls. The unfortunate reality from a business perspective is that, in a disturbing number of instances, when outbreaks and recalls occur, the companies that are involved cease to exist.

Watching innumerable outbreaks unfold over the years, our firm has gained a deep understanding about the science of food safety, the epidemiology of foodborne illness outbreaks and the legal consequences of food product recalls.

We have also gained far-reaching experience analyzing why recalls occur in the first instance, and how they, in many instances, could have been avoided.

While all companies want their customers to believe that their products are as safe as possible, and try to communicate this fundamental message through their brand, in today’s world success requires more than just a good advertising campaign. In order so sell food safely, a company needs to demonstrate it can process a safe product. In order to process a safe product, the company needs to invest in making it a reality.

Food safety, unfortunately, doesn’t just “happen” by itself.

In addition to facilitating their own third party audits, and also ensuring they are maintaining regulatory compliance, companies should also be auditing their operations from a brand protection standpoint. When I conduct Brand Protection Audits on behalf of my clients, I can usually accomplish what I need in just a single day. I like to interview employees, learn about the company’s food safety culture, and review food safety training and operational materials. I will also assess a company’s written food safety plans, identify hidden gaps that create additional exposure, and suggest improvements that will avoid criticism by lawyers or media in the event of an outbreak or recall. Moreover, many companies are surprised to find out that their policies are not actually being executed as written.

In addition, companies can lessen their exposure (and, thus better protect their brand) in other ways as well. Working together, we can easily develop stronger and more effective supplier specifications and indemnity agreements that provide added protection, as well as ensuring that existing insurance coverage is sufficient to cover potential liabilities. We also work closely with companies to develop crisis plans and conduct mock recall training, in as close to a real-world scenario as possible, to improve their ability to trace, contain and effectively manage potential problems.

Finally, we help our clients respond to FDA Warning Letters (and 483s), as well as FSIS issued NRs (so as to avoid criticisms months or years later from a judge or jury), and also prepare for and respond to both routine and for cause Food Safety Assessments. Many companies simply do not realize that what they say today can (and always will) be used against them tomorrow.

With that said, merely creating the “image” that you care about food safety is no longer enough. History has taught us that by taking a few additional proactive steps right now, such as auditing the true depth and survivability of your brand (i.e., the Brand Protection Audit), companies can significantly and strengthen the trust in, and longevity of, their most important assets – their image and their brand.