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

FSMA Preventive Controls: Are You Prepared?

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

Compliance to FSMA has presented a new and difficult challenge for industry, the public and the FDA since it passed on January 4, 2011. With compliance dates for the initial FSMA rule—Preventive Controls—coming in September 2016, food sites must establish plans now to meet the impending deadline.

Complying with the Preventive Controls Rule

The Preventive Controls Rule was published September 17, 2015, with the compliance date for registered companies (more than 500 employees) scheduled for September 19, 2016. The compliance date is one year later for companies with fewer than 500 employees, unless otherwise specified under FSMA.

Under the FSMA rules, registered food facilities must evaluate and implement preventive control provisions and meet the requirements and the approaching deadline. The most urgent concerns for companies subject to the Preventive Controls Rule include developing a Preventive Controls Program, identifying a Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI), and implementing a Food Safety Plan.

The following areas are all included under the FSMA Preventive Controls Rule:

  • Hazard Analysis. Companies must identify and evaluate known and reasonably foreseeable hazards.
  • Preventive Controls. Preventive controls must be implemented to significantly minimize or prevent the occurrence of hazards.
  • Monitoring. Preventive controls must be monitored for effectiveness.
  • Corrective Actions. Procedures for addressing failures of preventive controls and prevention of affected food from entering commerce are required.
  • Verification. Facilities are required to verify that preventive controls, monitoring and corrective actions are adequate.
  • Recordkeeping. Records must be kept for two years.
  • Written Plan and Documentation. A written plan must document and describe procedures used to comply with requirements.
  • Qualified Individual. A Qualified Individual who has been adequately trained must be present at the facility to manage the preventive controls for the site and the products processed and distributed at/from the site.

Failure to implement Preventive Controls (a.k.a., Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC)) for qualified sites may result in fines and possible jail sentences.

Self-Diagnostic Assessment Tool

The following self-diagnostic assessment tool can help organizations better determine their current state of planning for FSMA compliance (see Table I). To complete your own planning assessment, review your progress compared to the questions below.

Table I. Kestrel Management’s self-diagnostic tool can help a company assess its level of preparedness for FSMA compliance.
Table I. Kestrel Management’s self-diagnostic tool can help a company assess its level of preparedness for FSMA compliance.

Get Compliance-Ready

Companies must have their training, planning and development underway to comply, or face possible violations, fines, and penalties under FDA enforcement. The questions in Table I will help companies identify the areas in which they need to focus attention. Kestrel can also help answer questions, provide input on solutions, discuss how to better manage the preventive controls program—and change “No” responses into “Yes” responses that promote best practices for FSMA compliance.

Tim Curran, Sample6
FST Soapbox

Putting FSMA Into Practice

By Tim Curran
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Tim Curran, Sample6

High-profile food recalls and food-borne illnesses continue to keep food safety top of mind. Yet, many in the industry are still struggling to put the best practices we’ve learned over the years about how to properly secure our global food chain into practice. Put simply: The focus needs to be on prevention rather than reaction.

Food safety procedures must be strengthened across the board to meet increasing regulatory pressures and prevent massive recalls and illness outbreaks. FSMA puts the principles of prevention into law. The first major update of federal food safety laws since 1938, it was signed into law by President Obama at the start of 2011. After years of debate, it is now finalized and implementation can begin. The objective of FSMA is to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from reaction to prevention. Now, who can argue with that?

FSMA also pushes the FDA to extend beyond its traditional reactive role. For the first time, the FDA has the power to stop unsafe and possibly contaminated food from entering the food supply.

Let’s take a quick step back so we can explore how to best put it into action. FSMA is made up of five primary provisions:

  • Preventive controls
  • Inspection and compliance
  • Imported food safety
  • Response
  • Enhanced partnerships

I’d argue that the first provision is the true heart of FSMA: Prevention. The first provision focuses on preventative controls and provides a framework for an effective food safety program. In FSMA, this is broken into five key parts, including hazard analysis, preventative controls, monitoring, corrective action and verification. But what does that mean to you? You can best comply with these requirements by implementing better visualization, documentation and communication tools. Let’s walk through each section and the types of tools that you should consider.

Hazard Analysis. Most companies have strong HACCP plans in place, taking account food safety hazards at all stages of production. Risk assessment and risk management must be taken into account and critical control points defined. However, to manage this going forward, consider tools that enable visibility into the current and historical situation at those control points to allow your team to see their proximity to each other, as well as to other components in the plant.

Preventive Controls. Preventative controls are also called out as part of the FSMA requirements. This includes food allergen, supply-chain and sanitation controls in place, as well as sound recall plans. Again, critical control points (CCPs) are the key to ensuring your controls are effective. Also, consider trying indicator test points to stay one step ahead! Indicator test points, as advocated by food safety leader, John Butts, are one or more steps removed from your CCPs. By testing in these areas, you can identify possible risk areas before they even reach control points. This enables a much more proactive approach.

Monitoring. Your plant should have a monitoring plan that includes written procedures for monitoring preventive controls and how frequently they should be performed. This plan should take into account zone coverage, randomization, test frequency, test timing and sampling order. Depending on the business and regulatory rules of a plant, testing should include non-food contact and food contact surfaces. In order to ensure that testing is representative of the conditions in the plant, randomization of test points is important. In addition, test frequency and test timing should be defined, and organizations should seek tools that help to automate these business rules.

Corrective Action. Hope for the best, but always plan for the worst. What is your corrective action plan? You must have a written procedure for identifying and correcting a problem. For both your plant and for regulators, a clear record of your plan and that the steps were followed to close out any issues is required. Make sure that the team understands the steps that are required, number of re-tests and any recall requirements. Look for tools that automatically alert the relevant team members of the situation and track response and testing so that you can easily share this level of detail as needed.

Verification. Trust but verify. Having a plan is only half the job. Using your environmental and finished product testing programs to ensure that controls and corrective actions are effective turns your plan into action. Rapid testing technologies keep the time between testing and results tight. Also, communication of verification results keeps the team coordinated around food safety.

The move to more preventative food safety procedures does not have to create massive headaches. Compliance with FSMA will ultimately help your business and guarantee that you are providing safe food for your customers to consume. Many food companies have been implementing these best-practice guidelines for years. Thanks to FMSA, we all now get an easy-to-follow checklist.

Shifting from reaction to prevention makes food safer—and now, it is also the law. The first step is to make sure you have a good understanding of the components. Only then can you find the best tools and technologies to support you. Lastly, make sure that your team is well aligned around the goals and objectives of your food safety program. Together, we can make food safer.

Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group
Beltway Beat

Final Preventive Controls Rules – Devil in the Details?

By Dr. David Acheson, Melanie J. Neumann
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Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group

As we review the general applications and requirements for the first two final rules of FSMA (Preventive Controls for Human Food and Preventive Controls for Animal Food), we’re not seeing a big departure from the proposed preventive controls. But with nearly 1,600 pages of reading, we may not have found all the changes yet. Areas of note include: For the first time in history, training is now a regulatory requirement; and a new definition for a “preventive controls qualified individual” that is separate and distinct from the “qualified individual” under the proposed rule. With further analysis of the rule to come, we fully anticipate the devil to be in the details.

In this first article on the final rules, we are pulling out the key points, providing a general perspective of the Preventive Controls for Human Food, and main elements and compliance dates for both Preventive Controls rules.

The Human Food Rule

FDA has emphasized that it has built more flexibility into key requirements of the Human Food rule, including giving facilities the flexibility to consider the nature of the preventive control, the facility, and the its food safety system when establishing the appropriate preventive control management strategies (e.g. monitoring, verification, validation, corrective action).  In addition, the definition of farms, which are exempt from these regulations, has significantly changed to reflect modern farming practices.

The agency views the rule as better protecting public health by adopting a modern, preventive, and risk-based approach to food safety regulation for the future in three key ways:

  1. It creates new requirements for facilities to establish and implement hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls for human food.
  2. It modernizes FDA’s long-standing CGMP regulations, updating, revising, and otherwise clarifying certain CGMP requirements, which were last updated in 1986.
  3. It clarifies the scope of the exemption for “farms” and makes corresponding revisions to regulations for the establishment, maintenance and availability of records.

The rules generally apply to establishments that are required to register with FDA. Key elements of the rule are as follows:

  1. Facilities must implement a food safety system that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based preventive controls, including a written food safety plan that integrates hazard analysis of known or reasonably foreseeable biological, chemical, and physical hazards; preventive controls for processes, food allergens, and sanitation, supply-chain controls and a recall plan; and oversight and management of preventive controls to include monitoring, corrective actions/corrections, and verification.
  2. The definition of a “farm” is clarified to cover two types of farm operations not subject to the preventive controls rule (however, farms that conduct activities covered by the Produce Safety rule are subject to that rule):
    • Primary Production Farm. An operation under one management in one general, but not necessarily contiguous, location devoted to the growing or harvesting of crops, the raising of animals (including seafood), or both. The final rule expands the definition to include facilities that pack or hold raw agricultural commodities grown on a farm under different ownership, and to those that solely harvest crops from farms.
    • Secondary Activities Farm. The operation is majority owned by the primary production farm but located separately and is devoted to harvesting, packing and/or holding raw agricultural commodities.
  3. A flexible supply-chain program with separate compliance dates. In general, a manufacturing/processing facility must implement a risk-based supply chain program for raw materials/ingredients for which it has identified a hazard requiring a supply-chain applied control – unless it or its customer controls the hazard using preventive controls according to the preventive controls rules.
  4. Updated and clarified Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). In addition, some previously nonbinding provisions have become binding rules.
  5. A new “Qualified Individual” aka the “preventive controls qualified Individual.” This is a more highly qualified position/level in the organization with responsibility to perform the hazard analysis and assign preventive controls, defined under the rule as “a person who has successfully completed training in the development and application of risk-based preventive controls at least equivalent to that received under a standardized curriculum recognized as adequate by the FDA or is otherwise qualified through job experience to develop and apply a food safety system.” The qualified individual is based on education/training as applied to the individual’s assigned job duties—with the assumption that each individual will be a “qualified individual” for his/her assigned role.
  6. Training is a requirement. Foremost is the training required for the preventive controls qualified individual and qualified individuals. Further training may be required under Proposed §117.135(c)(6)–Other Controls, which proposes that preventive controls include any other procedures, practices, and processes necessary to satisfy the requirements of §117.135(a).

The Animal Food Rule

In addition to key elements similar to #1–3 of Human Food (above), this rule:

  1. Establishes CGMPs for animal food production by which facilities that further process a by-product for use as animal food must do so in compliance with CGMPs, but can follow either the human food or animal food CGMPs.
  2. Does not apply to feed mills associated with fully vertically integrated farming operations that generally meet the definition of a farm. However, because FDA expressed concern that this leaves a food safety gap, it plans to publish a proposed rule in the future to require that some feed mill operations implement the CGMPs established by the Preventive Controls for Animal Food rule.