Tag Archives: FSMA

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
FST Soapbox

Advocate for Change to Establish a Food Safety Culture

By Jordan Anderson
No Comments
Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

Many times food companies will simply say, “We have to change our culture” or “We’ve always done things this way”, but this attitude will not remedy potential outbreaks or help develop food safety protocols.

As author and businessman Andy Grove once said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” This statement could not apply more to the food service and manufacturing industry.

The first step to change is convincing your organization from the top down to buy in; getting your executive team to accept the cultural change from manual paper-based approaches to digital food safety is paramount.

Common objections will be the investment and positive record of accomplishment. Taking a proactive and preventative approach to everyday food safety compliance will have a positive ROI over time while ensuring the utmost brand protection.

Presenting the potential damages of being linked to a foodborne outbreak is a great place to start. It typically will open the eyes and slightly intimidate each audience member. After all, executives and board members do not like to hear “profit loss”, “stock plunge”, and “tainted brand image”.

While this can all seem overwhelming, it does not have to be. Preparing a strategy and evaluating the processes needed to fulfill this goal will help alleviate the red tape to get this off the ground.

However, before we prepare a strategy, it is important to understand the basic premise behind food safety and how technology can enhance it.

In essence, food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. Human behavior in turn, is largely driven by culture. In order to successfully develop a food safety culture, an operation must possess impeccable leadership and incorporate the highest standards of food safety.

Most notably, the HACCP plan and individual processes created are a reflection of the human behavior that shapes and molds the culture of an organization. In large organizations, the challenges are often compounded by an increased number of locations and stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) Within these operations, food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the nature of the organization, or attitude and work ethic of the stakeholders.

Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures through the use of extensive and dynamic procedures. Human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. We can now overcome the arduous “pencil whipping” of safety checklists via handheld, wireless and cloud-based technologies. Such technologies are ubiquitous today in the form of apps downloaded from the internet, cell phones, reporting platforms and omnipresent communications.

History has shown that in challenged cultures, individuals often behave as though they are not a part of the whole, and operate as one, rather than as a team that is linked together under one vision and shared effort. However, during the processing, handling and storage of food, we need all stakeholders to act as a collective operation and function as one. The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction.

The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry—the requirement to document and record actions of a larger food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, you are only as good as your records say you are. In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a positive and efficient food safety culture, in addition to the burden of increased regulatory compliance.

However, FSMA and the innovative technological era have guided the industry to a crossroads of sorts. I suggest embracing the FSMA mentality and implementing food safety technology into your operations. This will not only protect and preserve your organization, but perhaps more importantly, it will define your food safety culture, and implement a positive change into your brand.

Omar A. Oyarzabal, Ph.D.

Unraveling the Impact of FSMA On Acidified Food Regulations

By Omar A. Oyarzabal, Ph.D.
Omar A. Oyarzabal, Ph.D.

The world of acidified foods is complicated—the question of how an acidified food is distinguished from an acid food, how to measure pH of acidified foods that are not homogeneous, what kinds and how records should be maintained and finally, how FDA enforces requirements? As consultants to FDA regulated industries, we receive numerous questions, as does FDA directly, on acid and acidified foods. This Q&A, answered by EAS Independent Consultant, Omar Oyarzabal offers insight into commonly received questions and their answers.

Q: How you distinguish an acid food from an acidified food?

Omar Oyarzabal: Acid ingredients have a natural pH of 4.6 or below, while low acid ingredients have a natural pH above 4.6. Acidified foods are comprised of low acid ingredients mixed with acid ingredient or acid to bring the finished product equilibrium pH to less than 4.6. Remember, all pH meters have a normal variation in the measurements, and therefore that variation must be understood and accounted for when measuring the equilibrium pH. For instance, if you measure a pH of 4.3, and may have a ± 0.02, the actual pH is between 4.28 and 4.32. If the variation is ± 0.05, the actual pH may be between 4.35 and 4.25. We would like to see some room for safety and therefore the highest target equilibrium pH is, in many cases, 4.4. The finished equilibrium pH is the pH of all components of the product. It can happen quickly after mixing and final preparation, or it may take hours or days.

Note: pH meters perform potentiometric measurements, meaning that the electrode measures a potential of [H+] or [OH-] in the test solution by comparison against known [H+] or [OH-] standard buffers. The numerical numbers produced by a pH meter are calculated following a scale. Therefore, we need to verify that the calculated pH scale is reliable by proper and regular calibrations.

Total Cases Reported for Previous Years
Botulism Cum 2017 Five-year weekly average  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012
Total 79  4  201 195 161 152 168
Foodborne 5  0  31 37 15 4 27
Infant 71  3  144 138 127 136 123
Other (wound and unspecified) 3  0  26 20 19 12 18
Table I. The main biological hazard of concern in acidified foods continues to be Clostridium botulinum. The latest Notifiable Diseases and Mortality Table was released by the CDC on January 5, 2018. Cases of botulism reported in the United States (Week ending December 23, 2017).

Q: Is there a formal procedure for assessing initial/raw pH? Specifically, should pH be immediately measured or should the system be given time to come to equilibrium?

Oyarzabal: There are two important pH measurements, the raw pH and the equilibrium pH. The raw pH is the pH of all the low acid food ingredients without the addition of the acid ingredients or acid to bring the finished product equilibrium pH to below 4.6. The equilibrium pH is tested in finished product after the pH has “equilibrated” and all particles and components of the finished product have the same pH. It is customary to measure the equilibrium pH after 24 hours of manufacturing, but the actual time depends on the products. If the product has particles with high buffer capacity, the product may take more than 24 hours to achieve an equilibrium pH. The shift from raw pH to equilibrium pH is called the “pH shift”.

Q: What is the basis for the 10% rule for non-acid ingredients, and is it acceptable to have more than 10% but still have acceptable shift in pH?

Oyarzabal: There is no regulation requiring less than 10%. It is a rule of thumb based on experience that has been used for some acidified products over the years. It is not part of any regulation per-se. The actual amount of acidification in a formulation is something for a process authority to evaluate and make a final recommendation.

Q: A challenge study is generally requested for an acidified food filing, however, the detail for the challenge study is not specified. Previously the three main pathogens were suggested for evaluation (pathogenic E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes) and a 5-log reduction as criteria. What are current requirements?

Oyarzabal: A challenge study may be needed when developing a new product. But the microorganism of public health concern and/or spoilage concern will depend on the type of product (ingredient formulation) and process. New product should be treated on a cases-by-case basis and a processing authority should make recommendations.

Q: What is the focus of the FDA inspections of acidified foods? What are the agency recommendations for processors?

Oyarzabal: FDA has stated in the Preamble to the final Preventive Controls for Human Foods (PCHF) regulation that acidified foods would not be exempt from 21 CFR 117, Subparts C (specific preventive control requirements) and G (supplier management). Essentially, an acidified food manufacturer, during an FDA inspection, will be have to demonstrate compliance with both 21 CFR 114 (acified foods) and 21 CFR 117 (all foods). During any given FDA inspection, the FDA investigator may focus their attention on just part of the acidified food operation and the applicable regulations or on the entire acidified food operations and all applicable regulations. It is dependent upon the individual FDA investigator, the circumstances triggering the investigation, any recent illness outbreaks or deaths associated with a similar acidified foods, written FDA headquarters programs on acidified foods, etc.

Q: Is a continuous recording method required to prove compliance in meeting Critical Control Points at all times or is periodic manual check acceptable?

Oyarzabal: From a preventive controls perspective, there is no requirement for continuous monitoring. Monitoring has to be performed frequently enough to make sure there is “demonstrated” control of the hazard(s) addressed at that process or step. It may come down to what equipment is in place. But at the end of the day, the preventive control regulation provides flexibility for frequency, so long as it is appropriate to control the identified hazard. If a firm has justification that monitoring at a certain frequency is sufficient to control a hazard, it would be helpful to provide that justification if the issue came up during an inspection. Justification should be emphasized for the frequency of monitoring and verification, and must be robust enough to guarantee safety.

Q: Are salad dressings exempt from the acidified food regulations? What about cold brew coffee?

Oyarzabal: Most salad dressings may be exempt, but it would be wise for any salad dressing manufacturer to ensure that they are using a processing authority with expertise in the type of product to conduct a food safety evaluation and put their recommendations in writing, just in case there is a challenge by FDA, a customer or competitor.

All the cold brew coffees we are aware of are sold under refrigeration and therefore are exempt from low acid or acidified food product regulations.

Note: Most states have individuals that will help the industry identify the laws covering their products. The FDA also has a portal for submission of industry request related to food safety regulations that may apply to specific products.

Q: I want to produce a cold-fill beverage that will have preservatives in the recipe, do I still require a process authority to create a process schedule?

Oyarzabal: You need to have someone to review the product formulation and the process to see if it is a low-acid or acidified food, and determine the food safety regulation under which the product falls. It may be exempt from some regulations, but someone with the appropriate knowledge, such as an FDA recognized “Process Authority”, needs to make that determination. The FDA also has a portal for submission of industry questions related to food safety regulations that may provide a more direct answer to this question.

Q: What are FDA’s expectations on cold-filled acidified foods? Do we need to hold the products till the product formulation ensures 5-log reduction of relevant pathogens?

Oyarzabal: This is a product-related question and without the full understanding of the formulation and process, it is hard to provide any recommendation. The cold-filled process can be managed for acidified foods in a manner that would maintain the safety of the food and not impact the pH requirements or result in recontamination.

Q: Does FDA consider “water” ingredient as a “low-acid” ingredient? What about under the FSMA Rule?

Oyarzabal: Yes, traditionally water has been considered a low acid ingredient as it has the ability to modify the pH of the food. In some recipes water is added in such a low amount that it doesn’t change the rest of the formulation. The addition of water in those cases doesn’t change the rest.

Q: Are inspectors using the Acidified Guidance Document that was pulled a couple of years ago for inspections?

Oyarzabal: The 2010 draft received lots of comments, and ultimately was never finalized from draft form. Investigators inspecting acidified foods are aware of the 2010 guidance, but they should not be enforcing the provisions in this draft guidance. A guidance document is not binding on FDA or industry, but provides recommendations to consider as it contains the agency’s thinking at a given time in relation to a given piece of regulation. That being said, based on observations and comments from the acidified food manufacturing industry, FDA investigators are using the draft guidance as a reference source.

Q: Are electronic records permitted for process controls (e.g., electronic record of temperature instead of chart recorders)?

Oyarzabal: Yes. The Preventive Controls rule speaks to the acceptability, in theory, of electronic records as long as they are in compliance with 21 CFR 11 (Electronic Records; Electronic Signatures), and are accessible and retrievable as appropriate in a reasonable time frame for review by an FDA investigatory.

Jim Gorny, CFSAN

CFSAN Announces New Senior Science Advisor for Produce Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Jim Gorny, CFSAN

FDA has created a new position for former FDA member Jim Gorny to serve as the senior science advisor for produce safety at CFSAN. Gorny worked at FDA from 2009 to 2013 as the senior advisor in the agency’s Office of Food Safety at which time he was involved in the development of FSMA. He was previously the vice president of food safety and technology at the Produce Marketing Association.

In his position at CFSAN Gorny will work with a team of produce safety professionals on implementing new science and risk-based requirements that aim to prevent illnesses from contaminated produce. He will serve as the chief advisor to CFSAN Director Susan Mayne on policies and programs associated with produce safety. His responsibilities include stakeholder outreach and engagement, investigations and recalls, research and training.

“I will be working with state regulatory partners and other government agencies at home and abroad to build support for implementation of the produce rule, as well as with industry to help further compliance… I’ll be working to make sure that the people in senior-level management and the field staff, including those conducting foreign inspections, are speaking the same language. – Jim Gorny, FDA

In an interview published on FDA’s website, Gorny discusses his role at FDA, the produce safety rule and how he will be working with industry and key stakeholders, including the farming community.


Need Help with Produce Safety and FSMA? FDA Launches New Page

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments

FDA has launched a FSMA landing page on its website in an effort to provide more information about FSMA and assist in compliance. Links include information about the rules, guidance documents, training and technical assistance, compliance and implementation tools and general background about FSMA.

As the first major compliance date for large farms recently went into effect, the agency also recently updated the Produce Safety page. In an agency news update, it noted that in September 2017, FDA announced that routine inspections would be postponed until Spring 2019 to provide more time for education, outreach and training in 2018.


FDA Recognizes ANAB as First Accreditation Body

By Food Safety Tech Staff

In an effort to improve oversight of imported food, today FDA announced its recognition of the first accreditation body under FSMA’s voluntary accredited third body certification program. ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) has been recognized by FDA after meeting agency requirements, which were validated via an application review and on-site assessment.

“Accreditation bodies recognized by FDA will have the authority to accredit third-party certification bodies, also known as third-party auditors. These certification bodies, once accredited, can conduct food safety audits and issue certifications of foreign food facilities (including farms) and the foods – both human and animal – that they produce.” – FDA

Today FDA also launched the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), which provides expedited review and entry of human and animal food into the United States. Importers that want to participate in the program must meet certain requirements, including making sure that the facilities of their foreign suppliers are certified under the Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.


FDA Releases Five FSMA Guidance Documents

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments

Today the FDA issued five guidance documents related to FSMA with the goal of assisting food importers and producers meet provisions in the regulation.

The first two documents are related to the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) regulation. The FDA issued the draft guidance, Foreign Supplier Verification Programs for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals, along with a small entity compliance guide. The third draft guidance is related to whether a measure provides the same level of public health protection as the corresponding requirement in 21 CFR part 112 or the PC requirements in part 117 or 507 . “This draft guidance aims to provide a framework for determining the adequacy of a process, procedure, or other action intended to provide the same level of protection as those required under the FSMA regulations for produce and for human or animal food,” according to FDA.

The FDA also released a final chapter in the draft guidance related to FSMA requirements for hazard analysis and risk-based PCs for human food. The chapter is intended to assist food facilities in complying with the supply chain program requirements.

The fifth guidance is an announcement of the FDA’s policy to exercise enforcement discretion related to the FSVP rule regarding certain grain importers that bring the product into the United States as raw agricultural commodities. “This enforcement discretion is meant to better align the FSVP rule with the exemption for non-produce RACs under the PC rules,” stated FDA.

Lance Roberie, D.L. Newslow
FST Soapbox

Can You Defend Your Food Safety Plan?

By Lance Roberie
1 Comment
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.
Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality
FST Soapbox

Color Coding Helps Brewers Button Up QA Procedures

By Adam Serfas
No Comments
Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality

The passage of FSMA sparked industry-wide tightening of food safety standards. Perhaps one industry that has been affected more than others is brewing. Prior to the passage of this sweeping legislation, brewers weren’t held to the same standards as other food manufacturers and food processors. The act’s new categorization for brewers as “food” means that the FDA now has some jurisdiction over the industry in conjunction with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

This increased scrutiny, particularly in the event of a recall, has caused many brewers to look to color-coding as a measure to tighten up their quality assurance protocols. Fortunately for brewers, there are many benefits to incorporating color-coding, making the process a worthwhile one.

Happy Inspectors

Perhaps the most immediate effect of incorporating color-coding in a facility is delighting any inspectors that may drop in. A color-coding plan is a documented method for evaluating potential hazards and implementing precautionary measures to preventing contamination—all things inspectors want to see. Failure to live up to these standards can result in follow up inspections and, in some cases, fines.

Proper Tool Usage

A color-coding plan indicates where and when a tool is to be used. While mistakes can still be made, a clear plan that is reflected in all tools and paired with adequate signage and training makes it much more likely that a tool will be used properly. Much of the equipment in a brewery is very expensive and can be easily damaged by using the wrong tool. For example, if an abrasive brush were to be used on a stainless steel tank, there can be irreparable damage.

Higher-Quality Tools

Tools that are color-coded are generally made at a food-grade, FDA-approved quality. This means they are much less likely to leave behind bristles, a potential contaminant you wouldn’t want finding its way into the product. Additionally, many breweries make use of caustics and acids followed by sanitizers in the cleaning process. A low-quality tool will degrade at a much higher rate as a result of coming into contact with these chemicals than a higher quality tool will. Simply put, higher quality tools last longer, saving you money in the long run.

Less Tool Wandering

A color-coding plan should indicate where a tool is used and where it is stored when it is not being used. When tools have this designated storage area they are much less likely to be carelessly misplaced. And in the event of a lost tool, it becomes much easier to recognize these tool gaps and replace as necessary sooner rather than later to ensure that the proper tool is always used for the task at hand.

Higher Efficiency

When protocols are in place for tool usage, time isn’t wasted finding the correct tool for the job. This may seem insignificant, but over time those lost minutes can add up.

Removal of Language Barriers

For facilities that employ foreign speakers, color-coding is extremely helpful in breaking down language barriers. A brewery production area can be a busy, fast-paced environment, so it is helpful to have a plan in place that is easily recognizable and understood by all employees.

It is however important to consider the fact that you may need to keep in mind the visibility of these colors for colorblind employees. It’s best to try to use high contrast colors in your plan.

Greater Traceability

Finally, in the unfortunate event of a recall, a color-coding plan helps add traceability potentially decreasing the amount of product that needs to be pulled from shelves. Certainly color-coding helps to prevent contamination issues that can cause a recall.

A well thought out color-coding plan that is carefully implemented can have numerous benefits in breweries both small and large. For questions related to drafting a color-coding plan from scratch or updating an existing plan, contacting a color-coding specialist is recommended.

Question mark

FSMA: What Does ‘Qualified’ Mean?

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments
Question mark

The term “qualified” appears a few different ways in the FSMA rules. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Cathy Crawford, president of HACCP Consulting Group, was invited by DNV-GL to clear up some of the ways the term is used in the FSMA rules.

Food Safety Tech: Can you break down the difference what “qualified” means as it relates to a qualified individual, qualified auditor and qualified facility?

Cathy Crawford, HACCP Consulting Group
Cathy Crawford, president of HACCP Consulting Group

Cathy Crawford: Explaining the term happens all at once. I think it’s not clear in the preventive controls or sanitary transportation [FSMA] rules; they use the word in two different ways. “Qualified” sometimes means that you’re officially recognized as trained or suitable for something, but “qualified” can also mean modifications or limitations or exceptions. That’s why it is confusing, because it can seem like it has opposite meanings.

“Qualified” [means] trained or ready to do a certain job—that’s the most common meaning. The preventive controls rule talks about a qualified individual, as a person who has the training, education or combination of those needed to manufacture, process or hold food. That’s appropriate to their duties—meaning not everyone has to be qualified to do everything, but individuals have to be qualified when it comes to doing their job when it pertains to food safety.

The regulation goes on to say that it might be education and experience, but there is also some mandatory training. I think a lot of companies aren’t paying attention to this—that all qualified individuals have to be trained in food safety, hygiene and the specific duties of their job, and because that’s a regulatory requirement, they have to have documentation to support that they did this. The regulation also says that supervisors should have the education or experience necessary to supervise, so their training should demonstrate that it’s a little more in depth than what other qualified individuals would get.

Then there’s the PCQI, the preventive controls qualified individual. That’s someone with the education, experience or training to be able to perform specific functions that are called out in the preventive controls rule—meaning they can create a food safety plan, they can conduct or oversee verification, validation and corrective action, or they can reanalyze the food safety plan. The regulation specifically says the PCQI has to do those things. So that’s a different sort of qualified individual; it’s another step basically.

The other term is the qualified auditor. That definition starts with a qualified individual (QI) and elevates from QI to supervisor to PCQI and then to a qualified auditor. A qualified auditor is a QI who has the technical experience needed to conduct audits. That’s about as far as it goes in the regulation, except that they give examples such as that it could be a government employee or an agent of a certification body, but you have to take it in context. The regulation doesn’t say those are the only examples, so I think there’s some flexibility in those examples, and we have yet to see how FDA is going to implement the rule going forward.

When we talk about these qualified individuals, we mostly think about the preventive controls rule, but it also pops up in the sanitary transportation rule. In that rule, the term isn’t defined at all, so I suspect they would share the definition that’s in the preventive controls rule for a qualified individual. But under the sanitary transportation [rule], only the qualified individual can make decisions about what to do when there is an unusual circumstance in transportation such as an accident or a refrigeration unit that breaks down.

FST: Can a “qualified” person be company staff or is there an inclusion that someone can be brought in to take care of these duties, for example, on an outsourcing basis?

Crawford: That’s certainly an option. I haven’t experienced any companies that have chosen that option. I suspect maybe smaller companies or those that are members of a strong affiliation like a coop or trade association might reach out to get someone to play the role of PCQI. But it’s a very significant role, and there’s a certain level of responsibility and therefore liability associated with it, so I think it’s best that the person is a company employee.

I also highly recommend training. Although the two-and-a-half-day class on the preventive controls rule isn’t technically mandatory, it’s extraordinarily helpful.

At first when our company (as a consulting group) was teaching this course, many of the classes contained 50% or more of participants from FDA. It was interesting because industry and FDA were learning together. I think most companies are sending one or two people so they can get the information and share it when they come home.

FST: Discuss some of the confusion surrounding the term “qualified facilities”.

Crawford: This is where “qualified” has almost the opposite meaning. Here’s an analogy: There’s the concept of a lifeguard—you can be qualified to be a lifeguard like a person can be a qualified individual in a food facility, but you could also have a qualified lifeguard certificate, which means you’re limited and can only do lifeguarding when there’s no more than 25 people in the pool; versus someone who has more training and can do it anytime. It’s a limitation.

In the regulation, a facility is the qualified facility when it meets certain characteristics that don’t have to follow the entire rule, but can follow a smaller piece of it.

“Qualified” is based on size. If a facility is very small, with inventory less than $1 million in food assets and sales annually, then they are a qualified facility, so they don’t have to follow the entire preventive controls. They follow a modified version, which is primarily around having the GMPs in place but not necessarily having a food safety plan like the larger facilities must have.

FST: When a company is uncertain about their status, where can they go to get help?

Crawford: Many companies ask their own attorneys and FDA. The FDA has a website called the TAN (Technical Advisory Network) where companies or citizens can submit questions. It takes a bit of time but you will get an answer, and that’s a good way to go.

FST: With all the differences and nuances in these terms, what can companies do to better familiarize themselves with what these terms mean as they relate to FSMA so they can effectively execute required tasks?

Crawford: Number one: Either read the regulation on your own or attend the class that goes over the regulation like the two-and-a-half-day preventive controls course.
Second, companies need to document their training activities, because it’s required to demonstrate that someone is qualified. FDA has said they don’t intend to visit a facility and then document a 483 due to lack of a PCQI or a QI. That’s not the focus of their inspection—it’s an important part of the regulation, but they wouldn’t write a 483 just for missing training records. What they’re looking for is an effective system. If they visit and the system isn’t in place or it’s not documented, then they might back up and realize the reason it wasn’t done right is because they don’t have a QI or PCQI.

Finally, understand the terms, and make sure you have qualified people in place and that you can prove with records that they really are qualified.