Tag Archives: good manufacturing practices

Vice President, Science Operations, Grocery Manufacturers Association
FST Soapbox

GFSI and FDA’s Preventive Controls: Complementary or Redundant?

By Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D.
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Vice President, Science Operations, Grocery Manufacturers Association

Accreditation, certification, certificates…the structure that supports the third-party audit system can be very confusing! Further, an audit company offers a menu of audits: An audit to their own private standard, audits to several GFSI benchmarked schemes, and perhaps in the future, an “FDA accredited” audit. How do you know which one you need? How do you know which best prepares you for FSMA?

Jennifer McEntire spoke during the session, “Staying Ahead of New USDA and FDA Mandates for Controlling Pathogens in Food Processing” at the Food Safety Consortium conference.  LEARN MOREUntil the compliance dates for the Preventive Controls rules pass, food manufacturers really only need to be compliant with good manufacturing practices (GMPs), from a regulatory standpoint. There are some specific audits that evaluate adherence to GMPs, but many companies wanted to take their food safety programs to the next level by demonstrating that they were implementing effective food safety management systems. Certification to a GFSI-benchmarked audit scheme (BRC, SQF, FSSC22000, IFS, etc.) was a primary means to show a commitment to food safety and the demonstration of exemplary programs. With the finalization of the Preventive Controls Rules, FDA is catching up. So how do the FDA requirements compare with the main elements of the GFSI Guidance Document?

Let’s evaluate the extent to which the scope of GFSI aligns with FSMA. In September, the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule was finalized, and the areas addressed within that rule constitute the bulk (although not all) of the topics covered by GFSI (GFSI covers additional areas for which FDA has not yet finalized rules, such as food defense and traceability). The question on everyone’s mind is, “If I’m certified to a GFSI-benchmarked audit scheme, am I compliant with the rule?” The answer is, “You’re probably in way better shape than someone who is not certified.” The reason is, regardless of which GFSI benchmarked audit scheme you choose, your facility will need to demonstrate, through fairly exhaustive documentation, the nature and validity of the programs that are in place, and the proof that those programs are followed day in and day out. FDA is looking for the same thing.

The Preventive Controls rules go beyond strict HACCP in that they require facilities to consider what has historically been termed the HACCP system. This includes programs that may not be critical control points (CCP) per se, but are critical to the safety of the food product. FDA identifies elements of sanitation and allergen control, as well as a supplier program, in this category. If you’re familiar with FSSC 22000, you might call these “operational prerequisite programs”.  FDA will want to see how each and every hazard is evaluated to determine if it needs a preventive control, whether that is a traditional CCP or another control. For the most part, this is aligned with the GFSI benchmarked schemes, although some of the language may differ.

When it comes to the implementation of a supplier program, facilities should be aware that FDA’s requirements of such a program are much more explicit than most of the GFSI-benchmarked schemes. Even if the result is the same at the end of the day, FDA inspectors may be looking for companies to follow a fairly structured approach compared to a GFSI auditor.

To further complicate matters, FDA will be finalizing a program for the accreditation of third-party auditors. If an effective private third-party audit system exists, why is FDA adding another layer with its own form of audits (separate from inspections)? The answer lies with Congress, not FDA, as it identified two specific circumstances in which a special regulatory audit would be necessary. One situation is when a facility (or their customer) wishes to participate in the forthcoming Voluntary Qualified Importer Program. The second is if FDA has determined that the food poses food safety risks such that a facility wishing to export that food needs a certification issued by an auditor under this program. In neither case will domestic facilities be audited under this program; this program only applies to foreign facilities and only in very limited instances.

Since the rule and accompanying guidance documents related to accreditation of third-party auditors hasn’t been issued by FDA, it is premature to comment on how these audits will compare to those in use by private industry today.

So with the implementation of new rules from FDA, is there still a market for audits? Absolutely. From a very practical standpoint, FDA won’t be inspecting most facilities on an annual basis, and many private audits are conducted on an annual schedule. Plus, industry typically pushes itself further than regulations, which lag behind. Regulations can be viewed as the floor for expectations, but not the ceiling. Moving forward, we expect audit standards and private audits to become even more stringent and aggressive in terms of promoting the very best food safety practices. But beware, as history has shown us, a certificate is not a guarantee or indication of the ongoing quality of a plant’s food safety system. This is why FDA will not blindly accept that a facility has a favorable audit; regardless of the audit certifications you hold, FDA will still inspect you. That said, depending on the audit, it can serve as a credible certification of a food safety system in a plant and demonstrate to your customers your level of food safety commitment.  And poor performance during an audit can find its way to FDA too, since in some instances the agency will have access to the conclusions of the audit and corrective actions taken in response to significant deficiencies identified during the audit. FDA initially proposed that serious issues uncovered during consultative audits conducted as part of the third-party accreditation of auditor program would be shared with FDA, and when audits are used as part of supplier programs, FDA will see how serious deficiencies in audits have been addressed. Be clear on why you are pursuing a particular audit, and take the program seriously. Audits should reflect your food safety culture, not serve as your motivation.

Timothy Ahn, LRQA
FST Soapbox

The Real Cost of Not Having an Effective Food Safety Management System

By Timothy Ahn
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Timothy Ahn, LRQA

If you watch the evening news or read the local newspaper, the chances are pretty good that you will read or see something about a food safety concern or incident.

Consumers and Foodborne Illness
An estimated 1 in 6 Americans fall victim to a foodborne illness annually.

While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year, according to Foodsafety.gov. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Five types of organisms—Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria, norovirus, and Campylobacter—account for 88% of the deaths for which the cause is known.

We watched from the sidelines when major retailers faced public scrutiny over their practices on safeguarding consumer credit card information when their websites were hacked. Today, consumer and regulatory interest in food safety are the new focus areas for the news media, especially in light of the Blue Bell Creameries Listeria and the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Salmonella outbreaks. Unlike consumer credit information, serious missteps in our industry can kill people, and in the case of PCA, can put you permanently out of business.

In 2008, peanut butter paste manufactured by PCA killed nine people and sickened 714 others, some critically, across 46 states and was one of the largest food recalls in American history, according to the CDC. Although still under appeal, PCA CEO Stewart Parnell was convicted and sentenced to a 28-year prison term for his role in knowingly shipping out salmonella-contaminated peanut butter. Parnell received one of the toughest punishments in U.S. history in a foodborne illness case.

In the Blue Bell case, a total of 10 people with Listeriosis related to this outbreak were reported from four states, with three deaths reported from Kansas, according to the CDC. Blue Bell pulled their products from store shelves on April 20, 2015. On May 7, the FDA released findings from inspections at the Blue Bell production facilities in Brenham, Texas, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Sylacauga, Alabama. The FDA reports highlighted serious problems across multiple sites.

Both cases shine a spotlight on what can happen if you don’t have an effective food safety management system (FSMS). So what makes up a good FSMS, and is it enough to keep you out of trouble? An effective FSMS is built on three elements: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and a management system. Food safety issues are avoidable, and good processes and a strong culture within an organization make them more unlikely to occur.

Does your leadership  recognize the importance of your FSMS?
Does your leadership recognize the importance of your FSMS? An effective FSMS should be established before a product incident or recall occurs.

Implementing a FSMS does not happen in a few months; it may take up to two years to establish one. No doubt, foundational activities need to be in place for factory operations. In addition to focusing on foundational elements such as making sure equipment is cleaned properly and procedures for allergens are implemented, the leadership team needs to make it clear that it is never acceptable under any circumstances to take shortcuts that could jeopardize food safety. This policy needs to be indoctrinated throughout the organization and thus does not happen overnight.

Underlying an effective FSMS are strong HACCP and GMPs, but food safety should always be the top priority for management and its employees, not share price, earnings or profit margin. Although financial performance is important, food safety must take precedence in the organization, and leadership at all levels needs to send that message loud and clear to all employees. In today’s environment, HACCP is pretty much mandatory from a regulatory standpoint and is an essential part of a FSMS. But the missing piece in many organizations is the support from the top—this is where culture becomes embedded in the organization.

The FSMS culture is the collective behavior from the organization around shared values and beliefs. The organization will follow the actions of leaders, not necessarily what they say—we all know actions speak louder than words. A good food safety culture is one where best practices are openly discussed, defined and rewarded. Food safety culture has become a buzz word and there needs to be a focus on making it come to life through a structured FSMS.

At this year’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Tim Ahn will discuss advancing food safety training and harmonization (November 19). LEARN MOREFood safety training is important not only for first line supervisors and operators, but also for senior managers and leadership, because they define the objectives and policies of the FSMS. What does it mean to conduct an effective management review? What does it mean to do an internal audit? What’s a good corrective action process? Training often misses the mark, because organizations fail to embed it correctly.

For FSMS to thrive, management must commit to the FSMS being a required way of doing things throughout the entire organization. A FSMS is most effective when it benchmarked against a proven standard and verified by an independent third party. Certification against a proven standard will reduce risk within your business.

Select your independent third-party verifier carefully. Do they have the resources and time, and do they know what they are doing? Do they add value to your organization? This is important since once you get certified, your journey starts and it doesn’t end. The value comes in two areas: Identifying risks and developing the appropriate control measures, and ensuring that the process drive continuous improvement in your organization. FSMS is focused on how continuous improvement applies to the management of risk and business operations.

The most effective way to establish an FSMS is to have leadership that recognizes its importance. The worst way is to have a recall or an incident, which draws attention to the fact that there is a problem and something needs to happen. In the case of Blue Bell, they probably understood the importance of food safety and thought they were taking the right actions. However, their management system led them to problems. FSMS must be independently verified against world-class standards to ensure effective performance.

Auditing and FSMS
A thorough auditor won’t look the other way and will find the problems. Call it as you see it–don’t be too soft when getting an assessment.

Companies can develop blind spots where they cannot see their own bad practices, and they become institutionalized over time. Fortunately, experienced independent third-party assessors can shine a spotlight on those bad practices. That is the true value in bringing in outsiders to look at your operations and culture to uncover those blind spots.

At PCA, their poor culture and actions to the problem sealed their fate. In some ways, this criminal case presented a wake-up call to boardrooms across America and highlights how badly leadership mismanaged matters. This case came to light in the context of the public complaining to the regulators that they were not doing enough following several highly visible food poisoning cases. A FSMS would have prevented these problems because the structure would not allow such bad decisions to be made and would have been verified by an independent third party that would test and check everything. A reputable third-party verifier would not miss poor GMP/ HACCP processes.

A good assessor can help a company understand what is really important and what is not so important when it comes to findings (i.e., context). We don’t waste a client’s time with insignificant issues and that is where the experience and judgment of the auditor becomes critical. Last year I met with a client and said, “you need to be checking for Salmonella in your environment—how do you know it is not there?” I pushed them into checking because I understood the changing regulatory environment. I came back a year later, and they had confirmed that regulators were interested in their Salmonella monitoring program during a recent inspection. As an auditor, you have to be confident enough to provide advice and context to the client in a way that is understood and accepted, and that helps to build trust.

With FSMA, the government can now take specific actions against companies. If I am plant manager or CEO, how do I know for sure that I am in compliance with the requirements? How do I know that I don’t have any of these potential issues? The only way to know for sure is to have the FSMS assessed. Just like a bank or publicly traded company hires financial auditors to assure everything is done correctly, companies need to audit their FSMS to ensure compliance. Get a process audit and ensure they drill down deep into the organization—that is where we find issues and gaps. A thorough auditor will find your problems instead of looking the other way. It is important to call it the way you see it and not be too “soft” when getting an assessment.

If I am the CEO, I want to know where those problems exist. Independent third party assurance is the best way to find out how compliant you are with regulations. No CEO wants to deal with the inevitable lawsuits and lost business impacts. At least with an effective FSMS, you can show a level of due diligence when the regulators show up at your doorstep and the culture is such that you want to address any problems.

We have entered an important time for the food industry with FSMA implementation and other food safety regulatory requirements in the United States. These new rules place an emphasis on management accountability, risk assessment and control of supply chains. The bar for due diligence has been raised and it up to all us to show that we have done everything possible, and the best way is with an effective FSMS.

Social responsibility in food safety

How Social Responsibility Affects Food Safety

By Maria Fontanazza
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Social responsibility in food safety

Today, the idea of engaging in socially responsible practices goes beyond a feel-good concept. When considering food safety, social responsibility can have a big impact on a company’s bottom line, especially with the increased complexity of supply chains, as more ingredients and products are being imported.

According to Anna Key Jesus, senior director of quality systems at Amy’s Kitchen, social responsibility ties into food safety in a few ways:

  • Increasing market size for large companies equals more imported products as ingredients for processed foods
  • Differing labor laws from country to country, along with their oversight globally, require vigilance regarding employee rights and safety
  • A growing and global social media presence has pushed consumers to demand that food companies engage in socially responsible practices

Jesus, who spoke during a recent webinar, “Social Responsibility As a Driver for Food Safety”, discussed how food companies should be implementing socially responsible practices within their organizations and the ethics of providing a safe environment for workers.

“Any company that willfully operates an unsafe working environment for their employees is less likely to provide a safe processing environment for their customers,” said Jesus, adding that unsafe working environments can lead to increased turnover, employee accidents involving loss of attention or oversight, and the presence of blood borne pathogens or other potential safety events. “These conditions directly impact the safety of products.”

She emphasized the use of the SA 8000 standard to drive social responsibility within companies The auditable standard is based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights and is used across industries to protect the basic rights of workers, specifically calling out the prohibition against child labor and forced labor. “Forced or slave laborers do not live in an environment of personal safety,” said Jesus. “Under the conditions that they are held in, it is nearly impossible to promote GMPs or food safety guidelines. We can state with confidence that there are not good manufacturing practices when slave labor is involved.”

SA 8000 components address the following areas, all of which tie back into continuous improvement:

  1. Child labor
  2. Forced or compulsory labor
  3. Health and safety
  4. Freedom of association and right to collective bargaining
  5. Discrimination
  6. Disciplinary practices
  7. Working hours

Jesus urged food companies to carefully look at their own labor practices, as overworked and exhausted employees are the number one cause of accidents in the workplace. This is not only a legal and ethical issue from an employee perspective, but it also affects the execution of sound food safety practices within manufacturing facilities.

Jim Lassiter, president and COO of Ingredient Identity

Will FSMA Push Ingredients into a New Era of Scrutiny?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jim Lassiter, president and COO of Ingredient Identity

In June FDA officially deemed the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as unsafe, or technically, not generally recognized as safe (GRAS). The use of PHOs has been debated for more than a decade, and as a result of FDA’s latest ruling on PHOs, food processors must remove these ingredients from their products within three years.

From preservatives to artificial sweeteners to natural flavors, the list of ingredients that go into processed foods can be quite extensive. Consumers are becoming more vigilant about what they put into their bodies, and FSMA will give FDA the authority to act immediately in instances related to safety. Does this mean that some ingredients could be in danger? The answer is yes, according to Jim Lassiter, president and COO of Ingredient Identity.  “[Ingredients] are products that you literally take inside your body, and there is nothing more personal than that,” says Lassiter. Combine this simple yet fundamental fact with consumer awareness and the entrance of FSMA, and food and beverage manufacturers may be entering a new era of scrutiny.

Food Safety Tech: From an ingredients perspective, what challenges are the industry facing?

Jim Lassiter: Implementation of FSMA. Although it’s being implemented at a slower pace than Congress desired, and I believe slower than [FDA’s] original intent, that pace is accelerating. And while the increase in challenges related to the composition and manufacturing of products will be significant, FSMA will be an overall benefit to consumer confidence.

Consumer confidence. Whether the issue is bioengineered foods or disclosure of bioengineered foods through the business of trans fats, or just the general composition and healthful nature of foods. Slowly but surely, increasing consumer awareness of food choices and diet will have a significant impact. Regardless of the type of product, this is going to be universal and will increasingly play a role in decisions that food companies make during product development.

The unknowns. We don’t know what is coming around the corner, whether it’s positive or negative. A lot of effort is being extended within the food sector to discover the next big thing—whether it’s probiotics or prebiotics; addressing product reformulation in light of the elimination of trans fat [requirement]; or something that strikes out of the blue. That is always the most challenging aspect of the ingredients industry. Foods themselves, regardless of what country you are in, are cultural in nature; they are the most personal consumer good that you can obtain. As a result, our awareness as an industry of what we do to products must bear both of those pieces in mind. We have to recognize the cultural nature of food and simultaneously recognize the personal nature of products. As a result, we won’t necessarily have insights into the great unknown or the next big thing, but at least we will have the perspective necessary to deal with any unknowns as we move forward.

FST: In the coming year, what overall effect will FSMA have on food and beverage manufacturers related to ingredients themselves?

Lassiter: From an ingredients perspective, what’s going to happen is simple and straightforward. FSMA grants FDA the broad authority to assist and act in instances where there are issues with safety. That is, however, still nebulously defined and interpreted. So, there’s potential for FDA to suddenly make a determination that an ingredient is not safe or [that it] poses some degree of safety risk. FSMA authorizes FDA to take immediate action rather than [submit] a new process notification, etc. They will also have the authority to take immediate action in the case of violations of good manufacturing practices if the perception can be tied to any aspect of safety. FSMA stands for safety; that is the hinge point on which all of this occurs.

For example, with the revised good manufacturing practice for the manufacturing of food products coming out and the full implementation of HACCP across all food categories, it’s conceivable that FDA will take immediate action on inspection deficiencies in the food manufacturing realm. I think that’s one of the big issues. I don’t want to make it sound like the boogey man is out there, but it is a very real possibility. Ingredients themselves can suddenly be identified as unsafe. I don’t see that necessarily being a very radical reaction. The potential impact is more likely to be broad, but I suspect that at some point in time, there will be an ingredient that pops up out of a FSMA ruling that will suddenly be declared to be unsafe and [consequently] removed from market.

Second, I think the implementation of HACCP across all food categories will have notable impact, initially through common regulatory action (i.e., via inspection deficiencies reports, which are very common in terms of dietary supplement manufacturer inspections). I think you’ll see those becoming increasingly common in food manufacturing operations, because of the implementation of HACCP more broadly. The first round will be more likely for increased regulatory activity in food manufacturing inspections. If that message is not received and implemented rapidly, then the extension of FSMA is that [FDA] can shut down the plant without any due process whatsoever. That looms as part of the implementation. In terms of ingredients, you’re likely to see [some] that folks may not have previously thought about [as unsafe] identified as potentially hazardous. I’m not sure in what area it will occur, but I’m fairly confident that it will happen at some point in time.  

Part II of Food Safety Tech’s conversation with Jim Lassiter takes a closer look at GRAS self declarations and the areas of confusion among companies.