There were several common threads during last week’s GFSI conference—collaboration to build stronger and more transparent food safety systems, international partnerships, and a global supply chain. This year’s event saw a record-breaking turnout, with nearly 1200 industry professionals from 54 countries in attendance.
For the first time, GFSI entered into a public-private partnership with the Mexican National Service of Health, Food safety and Agro-Food Quality (SENASICA) that will help the entities to reach the goal of continuous improvement in food safety management systems. GFSI and SENASICA will sign a letter of intent this week in Mexico City. The partnership will focus on enabling private schemes to act under Mexican regulation (in addition to the Certification of the official scheme) to increase the amount of officially certified products. The two entities will also work together to enhance Mexico’s Global Markets Programme. The hope is that the partnership will be a model for other countries and will promote the adoption of third-party certification that facilitates the harmonization of food safety systems and global requirements.
Other highlights included a G30 summit held by 30 countries to talk about food safety and international harmonization; the work between GFSI and Certification Programme Owners to improve auditor performance; and the first GFSI award, which went to Champion Petfoods.
This year is a big year for food safety at FDA. All seven of the FSMA rules have been finalized, and the first compliance date is right around the corner (compliance with the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule starts in September for large companies). Stephen Ostroff, M.D., just took the helm from Michael Taylor as the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. And finally, FDA is taking a hard line in both improving the tools and methods used to detect outbreaks as well as working with the Department of Justice to prioritize enforcement actions against companies that introduce adulterated foods into the supply chain.
Yesterday Ostroff provided an update on FDA’s recent initiatives and its plan of action to achieve success in FSMA implementation and pathogen detection at the IAFP annual meeting in St. Louis. Ostroff highlighted several tenets of FSMA:
Keys to FSMA success will be dependent upon achieving high rates of compliance
Domestic and import parity
Education before and while regulating (establishment of training and education networks)
Taking a risk-based approach to inspection and planning
Partnerships are critical
Industry can expect three more rulemakings as required by FSMA in the areas of lab accreditation, a reportable food registry and product tracing. In addition, FDA is working on guidances related to the preventive controls, produce, and foreign supplier verification program rules. “We’re tantalizingly close so stay tuned,” Ostroff said.
Expect to see more program alignment with the Office of Regulatory Affairs as well. The inspection and compliance staff will be trained as specialists and there will be horizontal integration of programs between field activity and agency headquarters. Although the next fiscal year will be a transition year, Ostroff is hopeful that changes that need to be made at the agency, along with program alignment, will be in place by fiscal year 2018.
Other notable actions at FDA over the past year include:
In response to the OIG’s conclusion that FDA’s food recall program is not efficient or effective, the agency is ramping up its use of the strategic CORE (Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation) network in order to examine recalls that might not be moving as smoothly or quickly as the agency prefers. FDA is also leveraging greater application of whole genome sequencing (WGS).
GenomeTrakr network and WGS. More than 50,000 genome sequences have been added to the database (largely Salmonella). Ostroff called WGS a game changer that holds the opportunity to more quickly identify problems and detect outbreaks while they’re still quite small. In partnership with the CDC, FDA set up a successful module for WGS of Listeria and the agency hopes to expand the model for use with other pathogens.
Nutrition (Not just what consumers are eating, but how much of it): The move that declared partially hydrogenated oils as no longer GRAS with compliance required by 2018. The agency also issued a final guidance on menu and vending labeling in May, issued levels for arsenic in infant rice cereal, made determination for folic acid fortification in corn/masa, made revisions to nutrition facts labels that takes effect in 2018, issued a draft guidance on voluntary sodium reduction, and will continue to exam the terms “natural” and “healthy”.
Genetic engineering. FDA approval of GE salmon following one of the longest reviews in the history of FDA (20-year review), along with issuing voluntary labeling guidance.
Monitoring antimicrobial resistance through NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System). FDA will be collecting antimicrobial sales by species and, in cooperation with USDA, hopes to release farm-based data about antimicrobial use at the farm level.
Ostroff emphasized FDA’s strategic 10-year plan, released this year, pointing to public health as a first priority, maintaining partnerships as a key to success (including re-establishing overseas offices), continuing research as a foundation, and maintaining transparently.
Over the past year, FDA has been emphasizing the level of collaboration necessary with industry to drive a more preventive culture of food safety. Much of these efforts surround closely integrated partnerships between federal, state and local stakeholders, including a larger role that laboratories will play in FSMA implementation.
There will be greater reliance on the responsibilities and capabilities of laboratories as a result of the proactive movement in finding points of contamination, before they invade the home of the consumer, in real time. With the convergence of more laboratory analysis and the responsibilities that the FSMA regulations warrant, industry will be relying on the establishment of uniform and standardized lab-related processes and policies in order to bring uniformity and trust to the quality of data being generated and shared, according to Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., acting chief science officer and research director at FDA’s Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine. Orlandi, speaking at the Food Labs Conference last week, said that FDA is moving in this direction. “The oversights we’re mandating moving forward for data sharing, data reporting and data acceptance are completely equivalent across the board,” he said. FDA is working toward providing more transparency in terms of laboratory oversight and how it intends on working with industry.
Within the five published final FSMA rules there is at least some component of lab support that is necessary. The rule that deals the most with lab involvement, especially laboratory accreditation, is the foreign supplier verification program, because the responsibility falls on the importer to assure and verify safety of the commodity, and this requires the submission of laboratory analysis, said Orlandi.
Currently the majority of FDA’s work effort in the laboratory category falls under compliance program driven sampling, with domestic activities (i.e., inspections) and import activities coming in second and third respectively. Moving forward, environmental driven sampling will play a much larger role, as FSMA places greater emphasis on a risk-based approach and finding issues in real time, directly in the environment.
“We don’t want to be the agency that is just is responding to foodborne outbreaks or responding to problems with industry or farms or any of the commodities,” said Orlandi. “We want to work and become less of an enforcement agency and one of a partner so we can stop problems where they may occur. That involves making partners and leveraging our resources.”
FDA is expanding its responsibility for testing and sampling in the area of surveillance, verification (i.e., preventive controls and import controls), and compliance (i.e., removing adulterated products from the market, enforcement actions, and environmental assessment). The agency is taking a risk-based approach to deploying its resources, and where it does not have the capacity it will be relying on partners for assistance. It is also investing more resources in import testing and the criteria that go into accepting data for import testing, and will be preparing guidance for submission of data.