Tag Archives: FSMA

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Technology’s Role In The Future Of Food Safety

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

As we have all read in the media, when a food safety emergency occurs, a company’s reputation stands to take a significant hit that may be unrecoverable. This phenomenon isn’t going away soon, nor are compliance requirements that pose a threat to the personal freedom of executives. If these aren’t enough reasons to get busy automating your food safety programs, read on.

Randy Fields will be speaking as part of a panel of experts during the Food Safety: Past, Present & Future Plenary Session during the Food Safety Consortium, November 29th at 4:00pm.

The trends toward social and health-related product claims, like organic, the ‘free-froms’ and locally-grown, have had the impact of adding dozens if not hundreds of new suppliers to a retailer’s procurement list. And, it’s important to note, that these generally smaller suppliers are just now approaching their compliance deadlines for FSMA, and if they are very small, still have another year. New trends appear every year, and they will compound the challenge for retailers and wholesalers of knowing exactly who all of their suppliers are, which in turn will worsen compliance issues.

Our studies show that at least 12% of documents that certify organic, ‘free-froms’ and other product label claims have some level of discrepancy or inaccuracy making them invalid, and rendering the systems that rely on vendor self-disclosure near useless. With sales expected to skyrocket within these categories during the next few years, companies need to leverage technology to protect the supply chain, and consider having the system hold purchase orders generated for vendors who are not compliant with requirements.

An alternative is to have the system add a compliance fee to the purchase order that escalates over time or swiftly replace suppliers if they are not willing or not able to comply. That also speeds compliance as news travels quickly if there is a hard-hitting consequence for non-compliance. Either way, it’s important to be able to substantiate any claims to the consumer, since if those assertions are deemed unreliable, retailers and their suppliers risk a breach in consumer confidence and will suffer economically when shoppers turn away from them at the shelf.

And while retailers and wholesalers have begun to turn the Titanic on regulatory and business compliance, they need to continue to diligently find the risks in their supply chain, working even more aggressively to automate their current food safety and quality programs using new technology and procedures. Otherwise, their reputation and their existence are in jeopardy.

Cloud-based compliance management solutions that help retailers, wholesalers and suppliers meet the new food safety requirements can be configured to manage documentation requirements by supplier type vs. requiring the same documents from all suppliers. These systems also go beyond just storing digital copies of documents, and actually manage any form of compliance by reading inside the document to confirm it meets requirements. The benefits of these compliance management tools extend to streamlining new vendor approvals, which can save time and enable the redeployment of resources to more productive business-building activities.

Make no mistake: business and regulatory compliance will continue to be a focal point in the future. This includes addressing potential safety, certification and quality challenges throughout the extended supply chain as nearly one-third of all recalls are due to ingredient suppliers. We believe that in less than three years, retailers will require supply chain visibility from the shelf all the way back to “dirt”. It’s been proven too risky not to have that kind of visibility for ultimately everyone’s customer – the consumer. And now technology companies are on the hook to deliver it.

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

FSMA Checklist: Intentional Adulteration Rule

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

The FSMA Intentional Adulteration rule is focused on preventing intentional adulteration from acts intended to cause wide-scale food safety impacts to public health, including acts of terrorism, economic adulteration and disgruntled employees. Such acts, while unlikely, could cause illness, death and economic disruption of the food supply absent mitigation strategies. This rule requires mitigation strategies to reduce risk versus specific food hazards.

How much do you know about the Intentional Adulteration Rule? Test your smarts by taking the FSMA IQ Test here The Intentional Adulteration rule is established to address large companies with products that reach many people, while exempting smaller companies. This rule requires covered facilities to conduct a “vulnerability assessment” to identify vulnerabilities and actions to take for each type of food manufactured, processed, packed or held at the food facility. For each point, step, or procedure in the facility’s process, these vulnerabilities must be identified and evaluated. Covered facilities must also prepare and implement a Food Defense Plan. This written plan must identify the vulnerabilities and actionable process steps; mitigation strategies; and procedures for food defense monitoring, corrective actions and verification. A reanalysis is required every three years or when certain criteria are met, including mitigation strategies that are determined to be improperly implemented.

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 Intentional Adulteration requirements. To complete your own assessment, review and compare your programs to the questions in Table I.

FSMA, Intentional Adulteration
Table I. Kestrel Management’s self-diagnostic tool can help a company assess its Intentional Adulteration program for FSMA compliance.

Get Compliance-Ready

Companies must have the appropriate systems in place to comply with FSMA Intentional Adulteration requirements or face possible willful non-conformance, which can include fines and criminal penalties under FDA enforcement. The questions in Table I will help companies identify areas to consider regarding their program. 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.

Brendan McCahill

Four Ways Technology Can Ease The Burden Of New FSVP Compliance Regulations

By Brendan McCahill
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Brendan McCahill

What if it was possible for importers, or the customs broker that imports food into the U.S. on behalf of shippers, to stop salmonella-tainted food before it arrives in the hands of a consumer? While there are assorted systems in place to prevent contamination, often times, grocery stores and other businesses are unable to track the supply chain of foreign food importers, leaving customers blind to the origin of a product.

Descartes FSVP InfographicThe U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is working to address this issue with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). The new program makes importers responsible for better tracking hazards, identifying their suppliers and ensuring that their food is compliant with processes that meet the FDA’s standards for preventive controls and safety.

On the surface, this visibility seems like a great benefit to both consumers and businesses. But what will it mean for importers as they try and keep up with reporting requests and new regulations?

To prepare businesses for the continuing list of FSVP regulations that must be implemented by 2019, here are four ways in which technology will ease the burden and make the food industry’s supply chain even stronger.

1. Gain a holistic view of the supply chain

For navigating FSVP specifically, technology provides food importers with an efficient way to identify and better trace a supplier network, as well as and a quick and easy way to locate D&B D-U-N-S® Numbers*. For importer self-filers and customs brokers, similar solutions enable them to streamline techniques to transmit data to U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) as their goods move across borders, as well as to store details, such as D&B D-U-N-S Numbers, Harmonized System (HS) codes and more.

Ultimately, food importers and customs brokers that enlist the expertise of one technology provider can better prepare for FSVP compliance. While piecing together a technology solution using multiple logistics technology providers may work in the short term, a forward-looking, compliance-centric approach that aligns with future regulations must be adopted – one that gives a holistic view of the supply chain via one service provider.

2. Identify and better trace the supplier network

Supplier verification is an additional area of FSVP whereby suppliers must undergo periodic review and approval, and must be identified in order to perform an effective supplier hazard analysis and evaluation. Accurately identifying suppliers is a highly complex task due to intricate supply chains, compound food formulations and the number of SKUs in a product line. Plus, a supplier ecosystem evolves over time for many reasons, such as changing cost and consumer demand. Simply put, managing a complex supplier network can be a drain on resources and costly. Luckily, technology can help.

Logistics solutions that feature periodic updates that adapt to changing supply chains can help food importers better target suppliers to ensure regulations are followed. It can also help focus on suppliers with higher shipment volumes to optimize data management and prioritize compliance responsibilities.

In the event a food code is subject to FSVP, customs brokers are required to input the importers’ name, mailing address, email address and D-U-N-S Number. Because the FDA’s consumer protection function is dependent on the entry process, brokers are aware of the added scrutiny shipments subjected to FSVP-related information will be under, especially if any of the above information is noted as Unknown (UKN). Logistics technology can help automate this process and ease custom entries, booking, security filings and more.

3. Streamline techniques to transmit important data

Transmitting data to the CBP as goods move across borders can be challenging in its own right. Basic customs issues include import/entry process, tariff classification, valuation and duty assessment.

Innovative technology solutions can help businesses go beyond the bare minimum to improve the speed and accuracy of submitting entry and Partner Government Agency (PGA) data to CBP. Users can receive and react to responses and customs status messages by exception. Proactive alert functionality can notify users of actionable items including rejections, intensive exams, requests for electronic invoices, Temporary Importation Bonds (TIB) expiration notices and more. On-demand solutions also enable brokers and forwarders the ability to run complex international operations more efficiently.

4. Dedicate D&B D-U-N-S numbers for imported food product

The D&B D-U-N-S Number was selected by the FDA as the recording system to identify importers by a common reference system. The FSVP regulation indicates that a D-U-N-S Number must be provided by an importer for each line entry of food product imported into the U.S.

Today’s complex food industry means importers often work with an extensive ecosystem of subsidiaries, affiliates and Doing Business As (DBA) divisions. To comply with FSVP, technology can help quickly locate the D&B unique identifier for each member of the network, and streamline the complicated process of managing each line entry of food product offered for importation into the U.S.

A tech-driven pathway forward

There is no doubt that the new FSVP regulation is complex. U.S. food importers are now responsible for ensuring compliance in an effort to improve the safety of food entering the U.S. This will require food importers to fully understand the regulation on a practical level and react accordingly, using technology to its fullest.

Leading businesses should consider the FSVP regulation as an opportunity to look forward and prepare. With the right logistics technology and processes in place, organizations can improve their readiness to enable compliance, improve data management and execute a holistic regulatory strategy to meet the new stringent requirements.

* D&B D-U-N-S Numbers are proprietary to D&B, are licensed from D&B and are for internal use only. 
D-U-N-S is a registered trademark of D&B.

Accreditation

Why Accredited Services Increase Business Opportunities And Contribute To The Harmonization Of Regulations

By Natalia Larrimer, Jacqueline Southee, Ph.D.
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Accreditation

Accreditation is an internationally accepted independent oversight process for maintaining operational standards and ensuring confidence. It is accepted by many governments and private industries, including at various levels of the global food supply.

Recognized within the food industry and endorsed by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), the process of accredited certification has become essential for business.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), in its rule on accredited third-party certification, incorporates the accreditation process for oversight over third-party certification bodies certifying foreign food facilities manufacturing for import into the United States.

With accredited services increasingly becoming an integral part of business operations, many wonder how the processes of accreditation and certification work.

Accreditation is the process of ensuring that an organization has the necessary technical competence to perform a specific task, and has met and continues to meet a specific set of operational requirements. An accreditation body (AB) uses internationally established techniques and procedures to assess conformity assessment bodies (CABs) against recognized standards to ensure their impartiality, competence, and ability to produce consistently reliable, technically sound and impartial results.

Accreditation provides formal recognition that an organization is competent to carry out specific tasks, and provides an independent assessment of conformity assessment bodies (CABs)1 against recognized standards to ensure their impartiality and competence. Accreditation provides assurance to a CAB’s customers and industry that the CAB continuously operates according to internationally accepted criteria applicable to CAB’s scope of accreditation.

Although there is flexibility for an AB to design its accreditation process within the constraints of ISO/IEC 17011, Conformity assessment – General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies, the standard to which all internationally recognized ABs must conform, some aspects are mandatory.

As part of the application process, the applicant for accreditation submits information about the desired scope of accreditation and its documented quality management system. The AB conducts a document review to verify that the applicant has documented all management system requirements specified in the relevant criteria and any other applicable requirements. Additional requirements could include, for example, those mandated by a specific regulatory authority or industry. During the assessment, through witnessing of the CAB conducting a conformity assessment activity, interviews of personnel, and review of records and other objective evidence, the AB’s assessment team verifies the CAB’s technical competence and implementation of the quality management system.

The applicant is required to provide corrective action for all identified deficiencies. Only after all identified issues have been addressed can the accreditation decision process begin. To ensure that the accreditation decision is impartial, members of the assessment team do not take part in the decision. The designated decision maker, which may be a group or an individual, is responsible for reviewing the assessment team’s recommendation and ensuring that all accreditation requirements have been met by the applicant and are properly documented before granting accreditation.

A certificate and scope of accreditation are issued only after a favorable accreditation decision.

Once accredited, the CAB is regularly re-assessed to ensure continued conformance to the accreditation requirements, and to confirm that the required standard of operation is being maintained.

To ensure transparency, the AB is required to make publicly available information on the status and scope of accreditation for each accredited CAB. Any changes occurring after initial accreditation, such as suspension for all or part of the scope of accreditation, are published on the AB’s website.

It is important to note while ABs provide oversight over CABs, internationally recognized ABs are themselves subject to regular oversight from organizations orchestrating the harmonization and recognition of the accreditation process internationally.

The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) provide this international oversight. ABs that are signatories of the ILAC and/or IAF mutual recognition agreements (MLAs or MRAs) must conform with the requirements of ISO/IEC 17011 as applicable program-specific requirements, and are admitted to the agreements for a specific capability, for example, as an accreditor for testing labs or for management systems certification bodies. Technical competence of the AB and conformance to the requirements is verified through rigorous on site evaluation by other member of the IAF or ILAC community.

Without international oversight, there would be no evidence or confirmation that an AB operates in accordance with international requirements when providing oversight of accredited CABs. This oversight provides assurance that the AB understands the CAB’s process and can attest to the CAB’s competence.

The IAF, MLA and ILAC agreements are internationally recognized forms of approval; signatories have demonstrated their compliance with specified standards and requirements. Accreditation by a signatory of the ILAC MRA and/or IAF MLA provides assurance that decisions are based on reliable results, thus minimizing risk.

This is of particular importance in the constantly evolving global food-supply network. Many specifiers, such as regulatory authorities, have acknowledged the importance of credible accreditation programs.

A number of government agencies in the United States and around the world, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), have mandated accreditation by an internationally recognized accrediting body for their programs.

Accreditation within the MLA/MRA process helps regulators meet their legislative responsibilities by providing assurance that testing, inspection and evaluation results are issued by organizations whose technical competence and compliance with specified criteria has been verified by an independent third party. It provides assurance to stakeholders, such as the regulatory authorities, that the accredited CAB operates in accordance with recognized and accepted criteria.

Continue to page 2 below.

Question mark

FSMA IQ Test Part III: Intentional Adulteration Rule

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Question mark

The FSMA Intentional Adulteration rule provides a new level of compliance in food security and defense with specific requirements to be determined, implemented and maintained. The planning must include effective assessments on possible risk areas and steps for responding to these. Do you know the correct response to these questions?

Kestrel ManagementWorking with Bill Bremer, principal of food safety compliance at Kestrel Management, LLC, Food Safety Tech is continuing its FSMA IQ test series. Results will be posted monthly in our Food Safety Consortium newsletter leading up to the 2017 event.

Confirm your company responsibility in meeting FSMA Intentional Adulteration rule compliance by answering True or False.

 

Patricia Wester, PA Wester Consulting

Q&A On FSMA Audits: A Conversation With AFSAP CEO Patricia Wester

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Patricia Wester, PA Wester Consulting

As a trade association for auditors and the auditing industry, AFSAP has researched the various references to audits found in all of the FSMA rules, and monitored the steps taken across the auditing community to meet these requirements. In this Q&A, we sit down with Patricia Wester, chief executive officer of AFSAP, to talk FSMA audits, criteria for supplier audits, preventive controls and FDA guidance. She will be running the Pre-Conference AFSAP Food Safety Auditing Fundamentals Course at this year’s Food Safety Consortium.

Background on the AFSAP and FSC Alliance

In July 2016, GFSI announced they would re-open the Guidance document revision process so that FSMA’s requirements could be considered for inclusion. When the final GFSI Guidance document was released, it included most of FSMA’s requirements. At this point, the Schemes still had to accommodate these changes, which were then provided to the CB’s. Depending on the Scheme, a CB also had to consider including content to address any FSMA related gaps. In the end, these audits could take more than a year to reach the market, and depending on the individual site’s renewal period, it could be many more months before a supplier was actually audited.

Patricia Wester will be moderating the Plenary Panel “What’s Next for Audits”
and running the
Pre-Conference AFSAP Food Safety Auditing Fundamentals Course at the
2017 Food Safety Consortium November 29 – December 1, 2017 in Schaumburg, IL.

Recognizing the need to inform the market, the inaugural Plenary Panel on Auditing, moderated by AFSAP’s Patricia Wester was presented at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium meeting. Dr. Ostroff opened the discussion to share FDA’s perspective on the use of audits for FSMA. His remarks were followed by representatives from GFSI, Schemes and CB’s as each described their role and recent activities to meet the new regulatory requirements, and provide insight into the timelines involved.

Dr. Ostroff has agreed to join us again for the 2017 meeting, and will participate in the Plenary Panel “What’s Next for Audits” as Industry, Retailers and the auditing community prepares for the accredited certification audits necessary for VQIP.

FoodSafetyTech: How are audits used in FSMA?

Patricia Wester: In the Third Party Audit rule, FDA outlines an accredited certification program for imported food that applies in 2 specific situations. The first applies to any imports FDA designates as “a high risk food” and the second is the use of certification audits for importers in The Voluntary Qualified Importer Program, (VQIP). Under VQIP, participating importers are required to source their products from suppliers that are certified under the FDA program.

In addition to the certification audits for VQIP and high-risk foods, audits are one of the options for supplier verification activities under the human and animal food preventive controls rules. When the hazard analysis identifies a raw material has a serious hazard, (SAHCODHA hazard), that ONLY the supplier controls, a supply chain preventive control is required, and the supplier verification activity must be an onsite audit. FDA allows some flexibility here, the audit can be a second or third party audit as long as it meets the requirements listed in 117.435, and is performed by a qualified auditor as defined in 117.3. These requirements are applicable to audits used to verify foreign suppliers (FSVP) as well as domestic suppliers.

FST: Don’t GFSI Scheme audits meet the criteria for Supplier Audits?

Wester: FDA allows the use of any audit that meets FDA’s criteria for audit content. This includes second party audits executed by employees of the receiving facility and third party audits, including GFSI audits, as long as they meet the requirements for audit criteria and are performed by a qualified auditor.

FDA acknowledges that the GFSI Auditor Competence provisions are consistent with the Agency’s findings, but that recognition does not extend to the audit criteria/content of GFSI audits.

In fact, any audit program in use prior to the publication of FSMA’s rules would probably need to be updated for these new requirements. GFSI, the Schemes, the CB’s, and others involved in the delivery of audits have likely all updated their audits to eliminate the major gaps, however, there are still some key FDA requirements that remain unmet.

FST: So, even though audit programs have been updated for FSMA’s new requirements, they are still missing some of FDA’s requirements? Why didn’t they just add everything?

Wester: In most cases, it appears to be due to a misinterpretation of the audit criteria that underpins all FDA’s audits. FDA’s audits focus on assessing a suppliers compliance with “applicable food safety regulations, the HACCP and/or Food Safety Plan and the plan’s implementation”. The Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule states the audit requirements in Subpart G:

§117.435 states:

If the raw material or other ingredient at the supplier is subject to one or more FDA food safety regulations, an onsite audit must consider such regulations and include a review of the supplier’s written plan (e.g., Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan or other food safety plan), if any, and its implementation, for the hazard being controlled.

We (FDA) have revised phrasing to state “and its implementation” to emphasize that implementation of the plan is distinct from the plan itself (e.g., § 117.126(c). (The PCHF Final rule preamble)

Similar phrasing such as “any applicable FDA regulations” is used elsewhere when FDA discusses audit criteria, such as FSVP and VQIP and the Third Party Certification Audit rules. Further, the PCHF rule, §117.190 provides a comprehensive list of “Implementation Records” that can be used as a guide to understanding what meets this element of the FDA’s requirement.

The auditing community and Industry have assumed the regulatory reference was limited to the FSMA regulations, such as Preventive Controls for Human or Animal Food or the Produce Safety final rules), and has focused on those regulations to update their audit programs. Other FSMA regulations, such as Intentional Adulteration and Sanitary Transport, could easily be considered part of the requirement, so there are a few audit options that include those rules.

FST: What about products that are exempt from the Preventive Controls Rules?

Wester: Audits for products that are exempt from the PCHF (human Food) rule, such as Juice and Seafood HACCP, are probably available under a general HACCP format, but they may not include the level of detail required under FSMA, and would have to specifically requested when arranging a supplier audit.

Audits for other PCHF exempt products, such as bottled water or low acid canned foods, would be audited using a general food safety audit, with the specific product treated as a product category under that audit. Once again, these audits lack the product specific regulatory content and implementation details required by FSMA.

The question becomes, which FDA regulations (beyond FSMA) apply to an audit used for regulatory compliance and how much detail in the audit is necessary?

In other words, what is the full scope of regulations needed for the audit, and what are the audit criteria? Is it just FSMA or does it go further?

FST: Where does one look for this information? Does FDA offer any guidance about the scope of the audit?

Wester: The CFR, or Code of Federal Regulations is the starting place for regulations. Finding the regulatory information would not be difficult, Title 21, CH 1 Parts 1-1499 include FDA’s food regulations. In addition each part can have multiple subparts etc.

Given the sheer quantity of regulations, and that some are product specific while some are not, developing different audits for all of the possible regulatory combinations would be a daunting task and enormously costly. Remember, every auditing company will have to go through this process.

There are FDA references to scope and criteria in several responses to comments:

Audit Criteria means the set of policies, procedures or requirements used as a reference against which audit evidence is compared. During regulatory and consultative audits, accredited third-party certification bodies will examine compliance with applicable food safety requirements of the FD&C Act and FDA regulations within the scope of the audit. In consultative audits, the third-party certification bodies also may be conducting an examination to determine conformance with applicable industry standards and practices.

The applicable requirements that accredited third-party certification bodies and their audit agents will use relate to the food safety standards under the FD&C Act, such as the adulterated food provisions in section 402 of the FD&C Act and the provisions on the misbranding of food allergens in section 403(w) of the FD&C Act. The applicable requirements of the FD&C Act and FDA regulations would depend on the type of eligible entity being audited. Other examples include labeling requirements and the CFR citations listed under scopes.

Certainly, more detail than this is needed, and AFSAP is working to engage all parties, including FDA, in collaborative discussions to resolve these questions and concerns. The auditing community will need to address these issues in the near future, and industry should be vigilant to understand the requirements and make sure any audits used for FSMA are compliant.

Bill Bremer is Principal, Food Safety Compliance at Kestrel Management LLC
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FSMA Checklist: Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food Rule

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

The FSMA rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food is now final, advancing FDA’s efforts to protect foods from farm to table by keeping them safe from contamination during transportation. Sanitary Transportation is one of seven foundational rules proposed under FSMA since January 2011 to create a modern, risk-based framework for food safety. The goal of this rule is to prevent practices during transportation that create food safety risks, such as failure to properly refrigerate food, inadequate cleaning of vehicles between loads, and failure to properly protect food.

How much do you know about the Sanitary Transportation Rule? Test your smarts by taking the FSMA IQ Test hereSpecifically, the Sanitary Transportation rule establishes requirements for vehicles and transportation equipment, transportation operations, records, training, and waivers. It applies to shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers who transport food in the United States by motor or rail vehicles. Additionally, it impacts shippers in other countries who ship food to the United States directly by motor or rail vehicle (from Canada or Mexico) or by ship or air, and arrange for the transfer of the intact container onto a motor or rail vehicle for transportation within the United States, if that food will be consumed or distributed in the United States. These requirements took effect April 2017 for shippers, carriers and receivers subject to the rule.

As the FSMA rules move to enforcement status, food companies must prepare to best respond to requirements and to develop programs for compliance, including Sanitary Transportation. This requires companies to document specific verification steps to satisfy regulations and meet food safety transportation 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 Sanitary Transportation Requirements. To complete your own assessment, review and compare your programs to the questions in Table I.

FSMA Sanitary Transportation rule
Table I. Kestrel Management’s self-diagnostic tool can help a company assess its Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Foods programs, as required under FSMA compliance.

Get Compliance-Ready

Companies must have the appropriate systems in place to comply with FSMA Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food requirements or face possible willful non-conformance, which can include fines and criminal penalties under FDA enforcement. The questions in Table I will help companies identify areas to consider regarding their Sanitary Transportation 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.

Robert Rogers
FST Soapbox

Validating Your Foreign Material Inspection System

By Robert Rogers
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Robert Rogers

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires that food manufacturing and processing companies identify potential hazards within their production systems and then:

  • Put in place preventive controls to address those hazards,
  • Monitor those preventive controls to ensure their effectiveness &
  • Provide documentation proving compliance with these requirements.

There are also requirements for each company to develop and establish its own plan identifying potential food safety hazards and preventive controls to counter them, and to establish the monitoring procedures that will verify the efficacy and reliability of the preventive controls.

Validating, verifying and monitoring the performance of the systems that ensure that only safe food enters the market enables food manufacturers and processors to meet the specific regulatory standards mandated by the countries where they operate and sell. This enables them to avoid product recalls that are costly and that severely damage brand identity. But these processes, in addition to satisfying regulators, also play a valuable part in protecting the companies from potential liability lawsuits, which can often be even more damaging.

The preventive controls most often used to effectively deal with such identified hazards are inspection systems (checkweighers and metal detection, X-ray and machine vision inspection systems) that quickly and efficiently detect non-standard and contaminated products and defective packaging and reject them from production lines before they can enter the marketplace. The performance of these systems must be validated, verified and monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are performing as intended.

These terms–validation, verification and monitoring–are often used interchangeably, creating confusion within organizations and across industries because people interpret and use these terms in different ways. In fact, each term identifies a distinct process that has a clear purpose and role to play at different points throughout the equipment lifecycle. It is important to understand the purpose of each process to make sure that validation, verification and routine performance monitoring tests are performed to comply with regulatory requirements, particularly where the equipment is designated as a Critical Control Point (CCP).

Validation

The fundamental act of “validation,” when applied to inspection systems that are part of a food manufacturing or processing production line, is conducting an objective, data-based confirmation that the system does what it was designed, manufactured and installed to do. The International Featured Standards (IFS) organization defines validation as “confirmation through the provision of objective evidences, that the requirements for the specific intended use or application have been fulfilled.” In 2008, the Codex Alimentarius Commission defined validation as, “Obtaining evidence that a control measure or combination of control measures, if properly implemented, is capable of controlling the hazard to a specified outcome.” An important part of the validation procedure is the production of detailed data that demonstrates to line managers and to regulators that the system is operating as designed.

The manufacturer of each inspection system will validate its performance before delivery, testing it with generic products and packaging similar to what the customer will be producing. But that is only the beginning of the validation process. Onsite, that same system needs to be validated when inspecting the specific products that the production line where it will operate will be processing and/or packaging. This is ideally done at the time the system is originally installed in a production line, and then becomes one element of a complete program of validation, periodic verification and ongoing monitoring that will keep the system operating as intended and ensure that products are adequately and accurately inspected, and that accurate records of those inspections are kept.

It is critical for producers to remember, however, that the original onsite validation relates only to the specific products tested at the time. As new or additional sizes of products are developed and run on the production line, or packaging (including labeling) changes, the system will need to be re-validated for each change.

Verification

Verification is the process of periodically confirming that the inspection equipment continues to be as effective as when it was first validated. The verification process uses standard, established tests to determine whether the inspection system is still under control and continuing to operate as originally demonstrated. This verification process is conducted periodically at regular intervals to provide evidence-based confirmation that the system continues to be effective as specified. Formal performance verification is typically an annual process, to support audit requirements. It should continue throughout the productive life of the system.

Both validation of an installed system and periodic verification of operating systems can be conducted either internally by the end-user, or by the supplier of the equipment. Validation and verification services are often included as part of equipment purchase contracts.

Monitoring

Routine performance monitoring, as distinct from periodic verification, consists of a series of frequent, regular performance checks, during production, completed to determine whether processes are under control and to confirm that there has not been a significant change in the system’s performance level since the last successful test. The monitoring frequency may be as often as every two hours, depending on company standards, industry standards and/or retailer codes of practice.

If the monitoring process finds that a particular device is out of specification, all product that has passed through the production line since the last successful routine performance-monitoring event must be considered suspect and re-inspected.

In many cases, it is line operators that conduct online performance monitoring. However, many of today’s more sophisticated product inspection systems incorporate built-in performance monitoring software that automates this process and alerts operators when deviations occur. This valuable software feature removes any human error factor from the monitoring activity to help ensure that inspection processes are still being performed properly. It also provides documentation that will guide the end-user company’s QA groups in their continuous improvement efforts, and that will also be a valuable asset in the event of an inspection visit from regulators.

Routine performance monitoring can also have a direct impact on the production line’s OEE. Installing a system with built-in condition monitoring capability that automatically detects when the system may need correction and communicates that information directly to line operators reduces the frequency needed for verification testing, maximizing the line’s production uptime.

Reliance on the experts

Finally, food manufacturers and processors should remember that, while they are knowledgeable experts regarding their products, it is their equipment suppliers that are the experts on the capabilities and qualification procedures of their equipment. That expertise makes them the best source of reliable recommendations on questions from the most effective inspection equipment type for specific product needs, where to place that equipment on the production line for optimum results and how to validate, verify and monitor its performance.

Relying on these experts to conduct onsite validation and to advise on conducting periodic verification and ongoing performance monitoring can reduce both the time needed for the original onsite validation time and that needed for verification and ongoing monitoring procedures, increasing productivity.

Companies can also rely on these experts to be knowledgeable on the most current food safety regulations and the technology that affect equipment validation. It is critical for their success that they stay current on those topics, and sharing that knowledge is a valuable part of their service.

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Sanitation and FSMA: Is Your Program Deficient?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Proper sanitation plays a crucial role in the FSMA Preventive Controls rule, and FDA is paying more attention during facility inspections. However, many companies currently have deficient sanitation programs, according to Bill Bremer, principal at Kestrel Management, LLC. “It’s a key aspect of FSMA and requires that you have key personnel or a qualified sanitation manager either at each site or over each site (if it’s not local). That’s in FSMA,” he says. “In most cases, and for high-risk companies, sanitation must be supported by validated environmental testing programs (i.e., the typical swab-a-thons that FDA has done under FSMA). Sanitation chemicals that are used must be diligently approved for use and validated. In addition, chemicals must be appropriately applied, which is a big issue. These areas are key inspection points for FDA under FSMA, as well as for customer requirements. Sanitation has been elevated with FSMA and Preventive Controls, and it has to be addressed at a higher level—and for the most part, it isn’t.”

Bremer was invited by DNV-GL to discuss the importance of sanitation as a goal of FSMA in a Q&A with Food Safety Tech.

Food Safety Tech: Let’s first talk about the importance of a proper sanitation program. What are the factors at play here and what are the deficiencies with current sanitation programs?

Bill Bremer: We’re starting to conduct major sanitation program process improvements or process assessments for companies big and small. What we’re seeing in some of the key areas is that chemicals are not validated with the chemical provider. That includes the fit for use for them as well as the training of the people using them (i.e., if it’s liquid, it has to be diluted at right level and confirmed at right parts per billion).

Before you sanitize, you’re supposed to clean (in some cases it’s called debris removal). You can’t sanitize unless surfaces that are being sanitized are clean. We’re finding that cleaning isn’t done appropriately and thus companies are sanitizing over dirt, and you can’t sanitize over dirt or debris.

We’re also running into cases where the cleaning is done, and because it looks clean, a company is not sanitizing, so you run into another issue with those missed steps. And, this entire process needs to be validated and you must have records on it. You also have to support it with environmental programs, especially for high risk. So that means swabbing to make sure that once you clean and sanitize, you prove that the activities have ultimately removed any bacteria, germs or allergens from the process.

This is a high-profile area for FDA to inspect.

Some of the common deficiencies are with the program itself and the documented procedures to follow. It’s a weak area. Sometimes, a company will have different cleaning and sanitation programs documented (e.g., shift-by-shift or site-by-site), which leads to people who do the cleaning not following a standard set of instructions. It really gets down to both the programs and lack of qualified supervision and management of the cleaning and sanitation process.

Food Safety Tech: What methods should companies employ to meet FSMA requirements?

Bremer: This is an area where a diligent documentation program review is not always conducted. It’s assumed that we see the cleaning process—you see the foaming up of the cleaner, the sanitizer is all good—and we may see the cleaning record, but it’s not an SSOP, or standardized sanitation operating procedure.

However, when you look deeper and look at the documented programs, there very weak and unclear, and they need to be updated. That is one of the first things that we would investigate for a company. It’s also the qualification and training of the people—whether at the lower level or the management level, you have to be trained appropriately and the training has to be current.

Then we look at the physical process: Are they really doing debris removal in the cleaning process prior to sanitizing to make sure there’s no residue left for sanitation to be effective?

We also look at the environmental programs: Do they have a well-developed environmental program swab test? Are they using a third-party lab to validate their results? Today there are automatic test readers [that enable in-house] results. If you perform this in house, you need to have qualified people do it—and you should be checking those results with a third-party laboratory or service.

A proper sanitation program is an imperative. It’s an area where FDA is going to be investigating companies, even if they don’t have any record of products being recalled. If you look at the Blue Bell case, the big issue was that they didn’t do a good job of sanitizing their drains for Listeria, which got out of control and then it spread through the air system and to their suppliers, as well.

Melanie Neumann, Neumann Risk Services

Today’s Inspection and Audit Reality: The New Normal

By Melanie J. Neumann
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Melanie Neumann, Neumann Risk Services

Food industry inspection and audit protocols are evolving at a rapid pace, and rightly so. This is not surprising given today’s regulatory, audit and ever-changing risk landscapes, which are driving further complexity and expansion of requirements to ensure the industry is, “audit ready, all the time.”

This evolution of inspections and audits has been primarily triggered by newer regulations such as FSMA and private standards, such as GFSI and its certification programme owners (CPO’s, fka Scheme Owners) like SQF, BRC, FSSC 22000, IFS, etc. Heightened customer demand and consumer visibility into food safety incidents –many thanks to mainstream and social media– and the resulting increased demand for information has also fueled this evolution, compelling industry to focus on higher levels of transparency, both internally and throughout the supply chain.

The changes above are driving the food industry to face a new reality. One where the following questions continue to rise to the surface:

  • How have “yesterday’s” inspection and audit expectations changed from what companies are experiencing today?
  • Based on this evolution, how will “tomorrow’s” inspection and audit expectations change?
  • In short, what does the new reality or the “new normal” look like now for inspection and audit readiness?

We will take a look at what some of the first inspections are shaping up to look like under the Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF) Rule and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) Rule. Some common themes and some tips to successfully manage regulatory inspections as well as audit readiness tips are set forth below.

More Inspectors

Roll out the welcome mat because more inspectors are coming to the party. We are seeing an average of three to upwards of six regulatory inspectors performing the inspections under the PCHF rule. This may cause an initial shock wave but when you stop to consider the rationale it has a certain level of reasonableness to it. Industry has invested in its personnel for nearly two years in updated training to meet new FSMA regulations such as preventive controls qualified individual (PCQI) training, updated current GMP training and perhaps qualified auditor training, if applicable. It makes sense that FDA needs to make a similar investment in its people to ensure its inspectors are prepared to knowledgeably perform FSMA-related inspections.

FDA has implemented a robust training program for its inspectors. Regarding PCHF inspections for example, only inspectors who have successfully completed the PCQI training plus FDA’s internal training will lead other inspectors through the facility inspections as an in-field training exercise. So, the good news is at least one inspector is fully trained under FDA’s training program standards. This said, with more inspectors, there are more eyes, and with more eyes, more opportunities to see risk through different perspectives. It’s best to be on your game, with a tested playbook so you have confidence you are prepared when the team of inspectors arrive at your facility. Conduct a mock inspection against your policies, procedures and food safety plan that have been updated for the new PCHF and other applicable FSMA requirements. You will be thankful you did.

Digging Deeper

Into Records: FSMA and the seven rules that comprise it requires more controls, monitoring and verification activities by the food industry, thus naturally giving inspectors more records to access and review. Further, FDA received expanded records access authority upon the signing of FSMA. FSMA allows FDA to access records relating to articles of food for which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, the article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals. Before FSMA the standard FDA had to meet to access records was “credible evidence”; now its “reasonable probability”—a standard that is far lower and subjective—allowing access to more types of records than before. Another new addition is FDA now may access records beyond those relating to the specific suspect food if the agency reasonably believes that other food articles are likely to be affected in a similar manner.

Example: If you have a potential problem on production line 1, and you firmly believe the issue is contained to line 1, but that line is in even arguably close physical proximity to line 2, depending on the issue an inspector may invoke this new authority and ask for all records associated with line 2 in addition to line 1 for the same time period to be sure that the situation indeed did not spread or otherwise impact line 2. (e.g. confirm no risk for cross contamination or allergen cross-contact).

This should not mean it’s open season on all your records, but it certainly means more records are open to review and scrutiny, so having a robust record retention and management system becomes mission-critical. How sound is yours? Record-keeping and document management have long been important to GFSI / CPO’s. However, many food companies do not have a certification from one of these entities, which begs the question whether the scope of your third-party audit, or that of a supplier you are currently evaluating for approval, adequately evaluates this important area.

Into your Hazard Analysis: Inspectors are spending significant time reviewing the adequacy of the hazard analysis performed as part of the requirement of the food safety plan under the PCHF Rule and as part of the foreign supplier verification plan requirement under the FSVP rule. If facilities do not identify all the hazards of concern that require a preventive control associated with their facility and foods they produce, then the rest of the food safety plan falls apart. If you work with peanuts to produce peanut butter and identify Salmonella as a hazard requiring a preventive control but not aflatoxin or peanut allergen you have likely missed the mark.You may not have the appropriate preventive controls, monitoring, verification activities, validations and corrective actions identified in your hazard analysis and food safety plan to control for the most significant hazards your facility / the finished food is facing from a food safety risk perspective. (note the identification of hazards requiring preventive controls is highly dependent on the food, facility, processing methods of the manufacturer, upstream supplier and will vary if products are RTE or nRTE)

How are auditors tackling this issue? Many third-party audit firms have invested in providing PCQI training for its auditors so they are better prepared to evaluate the sufficiency or gaps in the hazard analysis. It is a good idea to ask your audit firm what updated skills and training have been given to its auditors to ensure you are getting the assistance you need.

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