Tag Archives: PCQI

Laura Lombard, IMEPIK
FST Soapbox

Is Your Facility Properly Prepared to Ensure Preventive Controls are Met?

By Laura Lombard
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Laura Lombard, IMEPIK

Under FSMA, you are required to have at least one Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) on your staff at all times to build and manage your food safety plan(s) for your manufacturing facilities. Per the regulation, PCQIs “have 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 FDA or be otherwise qualified through job experience to develop and apply a food safety system.” (Subpart C Section 117.180 (c) (1))

First and foremost, have you met the basic requirement of having at least one trained PCQI? There are now both online and in-person options to ensure your that food safety or quality assurance manager has had the proper training. Most online options require set times and dates like the in-person version to complete the training. Only one PCQI training currently on the market is completely self-paced and available 24-7. No matter which option you choose, it is a baseline that you ensure you have checked that regulatory box before the FDA comes to inspect your facility.

But what if your PCQI needs to take extended medical leave or moves on to another job? It is a proactive and smart move to have a back-up PCQI trained to both help support your PCQI under regular circumstances and be ready to step in if your quality assurance manager becomes unavailable. For a relatively small investment, you can ensure your company is meeting the regulatory requirement and has the training to provide a safe, quality product.

The FSMA regulation does not require you to have a PCQI for every facility but does require an individual food safety plan per location. Depending on how many facilities your particular company has, you may want to consider more than one PCQI to ensure that food safety plans are regularly updated and properly implemented. Many companies are now training the entire quality assurance department or a facility cross-functional team to be PCQIs and participate on the food safety team. Again, the relatively small investment in properly training personnel can save your company hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in costly recalls, lost revenue due to negative brand reputation, and FDA fines. The average recall costs $10 million, not including brand damage and lost customers.

It is simply prudent to invest in PCQI training beyond the basic requirement of the FSMA regulation. Companies should train their quality assurance or food safety staff at the PCQI level to protect a company’s product quality, brand and customer base. The fewer food safety-related claims you have, the more that can be saved in costly recalls, loss of current or potential customers, and brand reputation. Lastly, a company with a robust safety culture has a competitive advantage over competitors who are less inclined to invest sufficiently in their food safety training and may suffer financial repercussions and damage to reputation as a result of recalls and customer quality assurance complaints.

How ERP Can Help Ensure Food Safety in the Cannabis Edibles Market

By Daniel Erickson
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The popularity of cannabis edibles and infused beverages as a socially accepted and convenient method of marijuana consumption has grown exponentially for consumers in states with a legalized market for both recreational and medicinal cannabis. The edibles industry’s success has been met with many challenges however, as the absence of federal regulation has provided little guidance regarding food safety practices. With consumers generally expecting these products to have the same safety expectations as they do with other food and beverages they consume, many manufacturers have elected to follow FSMA best practices to ensure cannabis edibles’ integrity in the marketplace. Proactive cannabis growers, processors and dispensaries are seeking out ERP software solutions in greater numbers to utilize the technological tools and vendor experience in the food and beverage market to establish greater accountability and plan for current and future compliance requirements.

This year the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo is co-located with the Food Safety Consortium | October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILCannabis Edibles Defined

Cannabis-derived edibles are food or beverage products that are made with cannabis or infused with cannabis extract—either consumed recreationally or to manage or alleviate health concerns. Cannabis extractions used in edibles include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychoactive, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not, as well as many derivatives when speaking of “whole plant” benefits. While there are a variety of edibles including gummies, candies, cookies, energy drinks, teas and chocolates, the defining characteristic of these products is that they are meant for human consumption. Public perception is that these products are held to the same safety and quality considerations as mainstream food and beverage products available in the market. With these expectations and lack of oversight, the responsibility falls on the manufacturer to meet those expectations and ensure a safe, consistent, quality edible product.

Safety and Quality Concerns

An unregulated industry at the federal level has resulted in a lack of consistency, predictability and safety in the edibles market. Frequently, it has been found that edibles don’t always produce the same experience from one consumption to the next, resulting from inconsistent appearance, taste, texture and potency. These variances pose a problem from a marketing perspective, as it impacts brand recognition, loyalty and returning customers. Similar to the food and beverage industry, foodborne illnesses, outbreaks, undeclared ingredients and inaccurate labeling provide further concern in an unregulated manufacturing environment. Specific safety issues of the cannabis industry include extraction processes, mold and bacteria growth, chemical exposure, pest and pesticide contamination, employee handling of products and the unintentional ingestion of cannabis edibles. With the high risks associated with this market, it is necessary for proactive growers, processors and dispensaries to adequately address quality and safety concerns that mitigate risk until the eventuality of regulatory oversight.

How ERP Can Help

Implementing an industry-specific ERP software solution that provides security and standardizes and automates business functions helps support cannabis manufacturers by providing the proper tools to track operations from seed-to-sale. With support for best practices and streamlined and documented processes, companies can incorporate safety and quality initiatives from cultivation to the sale of edible products and beyond. Utilizing the expertise of ERP vendors in the area of food safety management, edible manufacturers are provided with the same benefits that food and beverage companies have experienced for decades with ERP solutions. Cannabis ERP software allows your company to track all aspects of growing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and sales—providing functionality that manages inventory, traceability, recipes and labeling to support quality initiatives.

The following areas supported by ERP can lead cannabis edible manufacturers to succeed in the realm of food safety:

Inventory Control. ERP’s automatic recording and tracking of inventory attributes, including balances, expiration dates, plant tag ID’s, serial and lot numbers and end-to-end traceability, allows cannabis edible manufacturers to maintain appropriate raw material and product levels, reduce waste, evaluate inventory flow, facilitate rotation methods and avoid overproduction. It provides accurate ingredient and cost tracking throughout the greenhouse operations and supply chain by use of barcode scanning that links product information to batch tickets, shipping documents and labels. Maintaining real-time and integrated information facilitates the ability to locate items in the event of contamination or recall. This detailed level of continuous monitoring mitigates the risk of unsafe consumables entering the market.

Labeling. Accurate product labeling is essential for food safety in the cannabis edibles industry, and its importance cannot be understated. Proper labeling and transparency ensure that consumers are provided a consistent experience and also help to mitigate unintentional consumption of cannabis-infused products. Certain states have enacted labeling requirements to increase accountability and mitigate the misrepresentation of cannabis edibles on the label with unverified, misleading or inaccurate information. Employing an automated ERP system assists with label creation that includes nutrient analysis, ingredient and allergen statements, testing notification for bio-contaminants and pathogens and expiration dates to ensure quality—providing a faster and more efficient method for labeling. Accurate labeling is also an imperative component of product recall planning, as traceability and labeling history documented in ERP software helps to identify and locate items quickly in the event of a recall.

Recipe and Formulation Management. To achieve consistency of products in taste, texture, appearance, potency and intended results, complex recipe and formula management are maintained with a real-time ERP solution that delivers tightly managed control. Raw material data, version and revision information and production notes are documented for each batch. The monitoring of key quality specifications such as THC and CBD percentage, containment and impurities testing, etc. are readily handled within the system and allows for the scalability of recipes as needed. Direct access to the calculation of specific nutritional values, which includes ingredient and allergen information, provides accurate labeling and consumer information for product packaging—a valuable asset in the cannabis edibles market. R&D functionality supports the creation of new and innovative edibles and marijuana-infused beverages in a sandbox environment to meet the demands of this consumer-driven market.

Approved Supplier Relationships. Assurance of cannabis edible safety is enhanced through the acquisition of quality raw materials from trusted vendors. An ERP solution plays an essential role in the process as it maintains a supplier list by documenting detailed supplier information and test results to assure in-house qualifications and potency standards are met. A fully-integrated ERP system regulates quality control testing to ensure consistent and approved materials are being used and undeclared substances, harmful chemicals and impure ingredients are unable to infiltrate the supply chain. Failure to meet quality control standards results in ingredients being quarantined, removed from production and disposed of safely, and indicates that a search for alternate vendors is needed. This detailed level of documentation is a best practice for maintaining current and accurate supplier information in the event of a product recall.

Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). As the bedrock for the food and beverage industries, following cGMPs establishes an important foundation for the edibles market. An ERP efficiently documents processes to ensure safe and sanitary manufacturing, storage and packaging of food for human consumption. This includes monitoring equipment status, establishing cleaning and hygienic procedures, training employees, reporting illnesses, maintaining food and cannabis handling certifications and eliminating allergen cross-contact risks. Validating procedures within an ERP solution automates documentation of an audit trail and addresses food safety concerns more efficiently than manual methods.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Requirements. Establishing a food safety team that develops a HACCP plan to enact procedures that protect consumers from the biological, chemical and physical dangers of edibles is a recommended best practice for quality assurance, despite the current lack of federal regulations. Critical control points recorded within an ERP solution prevent and control hazards before food safety is compromised. Parameters within the ERP system can be utilized to identify potential hazards before further contamination can occur. Applying these best practices historically used by food and beverage manufacturers can provide an enhanced level of food safety protocols to ensure quality, consistent and safe consumables.

Food Safety Plan. As a requirement of FSMA, a food safety plan provides a systematic approach of identifying and addressing food safety hazards by implementing preventative food safety procedures throughout the manufacturing, processing, packing and storage of products. With a trained Preventative Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) at the helm to coordinate the company-specific plan, an ERP solution automates and records preventative controls, full forward and backward lot traceability, recall plans and employee training records within an integrated system to ensure that food safety policies and procedures are being followed.

With the growth of the edibles and infused beverage market expected to skyrocket over the next four years, the success of growers, processors and manufacturers will continue to thrive off of technological tools and established best practices. Employing the industry experience of ERP software providers that have implemented food safety and quality control procedures will follow suit of the market and be a sought-after resource when federal regulations are imposed. Proactive cannabis businesses are already experiencing a return on investment in their ability to provide quality, consistent products that meet cannabis enthusiasts’ high expectations and keep them ahead of this trending market.

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ImEpik and Food Safety Tech Partner on Agreement for PCQI Online Training

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 27, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., Inc., publisher of Food Safety Tech, has entered into a reseller agreement with ImEpik, an online training company that serves food manufacturers globally. Food Safety Tech will serve as a reseller of ImEpik’s PCQI online training course as per training that is required under FSMA.

“I’m pleased to announce our partnership with ImEpik, as it allows us to expand our efforts in giving the industry access to resources that are critical to food safety education and training,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo.

“Our ten-module online training program ensures that Preventive Control Qualified Individuals are proficient in the standards that are required under FSMA,” said Laura Lombard, CEO of ImEpik. “Providing compliance training in an online capacity also saves our ‘students’ time and money, as they can take the course any time and anywhere, without having to travel away from their job.”

As part of the partnership, the training will be offered at a reduced rate for professionals who also register to attend the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, an annual industry event held October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL. Full conference registration that includes PCQI training starts at $845 with the early bird discount. After September 13, the cost of the full conference registration with PCQI training is $995.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.

About IMEPIK

IMEPIK is a market-driven, and research-based online training company, facilitates food safety training for food manufacturers around the world. With an emphasis on accessible and innovative training, ImEpik offers a unique advantage in providing effective training for you, your employees, your association members, or your clients to ensure food safety compliance and best practices. We offer Preventive Controls courses that include the “standardized curriculum” recognized by the FDA.

Laura Lombard, IMEPIK
FST Soapbox

The Business Case for PCQI Training

By Laura Lombard
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Laura Lombard, IMEPIK

Beyond reducing liability or checking a regulatory box, investing in robust training can reap measurable business impact. The FSMA regulation requires that Preventive Control Qualified Individuals (PCQIs) “have 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 FDA or be otherwise qualified through job experience to develop and apply a food safety system,” as per Subpart C Section 117.180 (c) (1). Even if the person serving in the role of PCQI is qualified through job experience, FDA investigators will expect adherence to development and application of risk-based controls as contained in the standardized PCQI curriculum material or the alternative training allowed in the regulation.

Let’s face it: Our employees serving in the role of PCQI come from a spectrum of food safety plan experience. In addition, many are mentoring new members as Qualified Individuals on the food safety team. Others are building a whole new team from scratch. Team members may be specialized department heads or hold several titles and job duties within a manufacturing facility. Your PCQI is charged with overseeing the development and analysis of the food safety plan. The PCQI needs a team that has had consistent training in the language of the new rules and how to comply to support the PCQI’s charge.

Beyond meeting the regulation, companies should train at the PCQI level to safeguard a company’s product quality, brand and customer base. The fewer food safety-related claims you have, the more you save in costly recalls, loss of current or potential customers, and your brand’s reputation. A company with a robust safety culture has a competitive advantage over competitors who are more lax in their food safety and may suffer financially and reputationally from recalls and customer quality assurance complaints. In an era when customers are seeking more information about the food they consume, being a trusted food safety brand can make your company stand above the crowd.

In addition, consistent training can help with internal culture change and worker productivity. Working on hazard analysis and defining preventive controls requires that employees show critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Team members taking a curriculum with standardized material and consistent learning objectives can reflect together to identify and document gaps and corrections to practices or processes. They can quickly apply their learning for more accurate analysis of the components of the food safety plan. This is the true impact from investment in high quality instruction—motivating employees to learn updated food safety practices, change their behavior, and make more efficient and effective decisions to keep the quality and safety of your products. Well-trained food safety employees are a key factor in the protection of your customers, your company’s brand and the prevention of costly food recalls. The investment in training at the PCQI level is strategic on all fronts.

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Don’t Let Pests Wreck Your Supply Chain

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

In today’s global marketplace, it has become necessary for facility managers to implement more detailed inspection and documentation policies for incoming shipments as part of the larger food safety plan. But plan as you might, pests are adept at infiltrating food products and contaminating shipments. Their resilience and persistence will make you pay, literally, if you’re not paying close attention.

Pest management is a key component of any facility manager’s food safety plan, but understanding how best to prevent pests from compromising shipments—and by extension the supply chain—takes diligence. An integrated pest management (IPM) program is the best way to ensure that insects and rodents are kept away from processing, packaging and storing food products. Again, this information shouldn’t be anything new if you’re a food processing facility manager, but it’s important to note that IPM focuses on proactive prevention of pests, to align with FSMA’s Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Control (HARPC) regulations. These newer regulations shift the focus from reacting to potential contamination concerns to preventing as many issues as possible. Being proactive is a must.

Aside from the legal backlash a facility could face if found if violating these rules, pest issues can also have a major negative impact on a business’ bottom line. Imagine the cost of even one of your outgoing shipments being contaminated by cockroaches or stored product pests. Now, imagine the impact on your business from consumer backlash if the pest-ridden shipment travels further down the line. Simply put, it’s never good if the pest problems are traced back to your facility.

So, what’s the best way to protect your supply chain from potential pest issues and remain compliant under FSMA and HARPC?

All food safety plans should have considerations in place based on a review from a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). This individual is responsible for preparing the document, with the input of as many departments and people as possible, such as QA/QC, maintenance, production teams, and more. Since pests are a common potential hazard, a pest management program should be included in the plan.

That being said, it’s important to inspect all incoming shipments. Even if suppliers have implemented measures to help keep pests away from their sites and products, pests are tough to entirely prevent and it’s always a possibility some have slipped through the cracks (literally!). Pests are attracted by food, water and shelter, so a truck transporting products to your facility is going to be chock-full of attractants! Carefully inspecting incoming shipments will not only help ensure pests don’t enter your facility, but it will help you and your supply chain partners target exactly where problems may be occurring. Forming good relationships with your suppliers, and keeping communication open can help to manage any issues that may pop up.

The faster pest issues are detected, the better. It’s easier to address a pest problem and more accurately pinpoint where it originated if it can be caught early. Otherwise, pests can reproduce quickly and spread, making it harder to pin down the source of an infestation and to treat it. It’s tough to overstate the importance of open lines of communicated between supply chain partners!

To avoid allowing pests into your facility or sending them to a supply chain partner, implement the following processes:

  • Inspect shipments for pest activity, especially incoming shipments. Some common signs include live or dead insects, droppings and damage to the product and packaging.
  • Ensure packaged products are properly sealed and undamaged before transport, and then check the transportation vehicle before loading product for shipping.
  • If there is a pest sighting, remove any compromised product to avoid allowing pests to spread to other goods or find a way into the facility. If it can’t be removed from the facility, isolate it in a contained area and call your pest management provider immediately.
  • Empower employees to call out pest issues as well by implementing a “see something, say something” policy. Don’t forget to have a pest sighting log, and let the employees know where it is and what to record.
  • Use monitoring devices to detect pest activity levels. Devices like insect light traps, pheromone monitors, and glue boards can be easily placed in shipping and receiving areas as an early warning sign of pest activity.

With an untrained eye, pest issues can be difficult to notice. Ask your pest control professional about a free training session for employees. Most pest management companies offer this service free of charge, and it can be a big help. There’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage.

The pest pressure a facility faces is dependent on a variety of factors including location, geography and the type of product being produced and stored. No two facilities are the same, which is why every pest management program should be customized to meet the needs of the business.

As a start, the following pests are the most common to find in the food processing industry.

  • Rodents: Rats and mice can carry disease-causing pathogens that can be deposited onto other surfaces by simply making contact with equipment or products. Both are capable of fitting through tiny gaps (mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime, while rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter), meaning any openings on the exterior of a building serve as a welcome mat to a curious rodent. To spot the signs of rodent activity, look for droppings and yellowish-brown grease marks around corners and along baseboards, as these marks can be caused as a rodent rubs against these areas. In addition, look for gnaw marks around any gaps or openings in walls and on products.
  • Cockroaches: Able to squeeze their bodies through miniscule gaps, cockroaches will feed on just about anything. With a good food source, they can reproduce quickly. A couple cockroaches can become an infestation in a matter of months, especially with an abundant food supply. Cockroaches are most active at night, so if you see one during the day it’s a good sign that it’s time to act quickly!
  • Flies: While less likely to find their way into packaged products, flies can spread dangerous, potentially disease-spreading pathogens on everything they touch. They usually don’t travel too far from their larval food source, but their ability to reproduce quickly can make them a nightmare to get rid of if steps aren’t taken to remove them immediately.
  • Stored Product Pests: There are numerous kinds of stored product pests, but all are adept at thriving in and around products undetected. The Indian meal moth, for example, is a moth with small, cream colored larvae that will eat just about anything. Stored product pests are some of the most likely pests you’ll find on incoming shipments and in storage areas, as they’re right at home breaking into and surviving within product packaging.

Keep these pests on the radar, and make sure to take note of where pests are found and how many are spotted. The more information, the better, as it helps pest management professionals get to the root of pest problems.

Documentation is always a major key. It shows an auditor that careful planning and proactive prevention are points of emphasis, which will be important. Although there are numerous documents to keep on hand, add the following to your list in order to more easily demonstrate compliance with pest related FSMA regulations:

  1. Supply chain program, including suppliers and ingredients.
  2. Receiving procedures, including the pest management program that helps prevent pests from entering the facility on products or through loading areas.
  3. Receiving records, or, in other words, documentation of shipments received from suppliers.
  4. Monitoring records of any captured pests in or around the facility and any corrective actions.
  5. Application records for treatments used in and around the facility.

If suppliers are located in another country, note the requirements differ from facilities located in the United States. The FDA breaks this down on their website, but importing products from another country means a facility must follow the Foreign Supplier Verification Program. This comes with a different set of compliance documents and means the importing facility must monitor foreign suppliers’ food safety plans.

Remember: Preventing pests needs to be a proactive process included in the food safety plan. If you want your supply chain to remain pest free, partner with a pest management company and talk to your supply partners to establish standards for documentation and communication. All will benefit, as you’ll be able to catch problems early and have a better chance of keeping pests from wrecking your supply chain.

Read on for more articles by Chelle Hartzer.

How to Prepare for an Audit at Any Time

Minimize the Risk of Pests by Maximizing Your Staff

 

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FSMA: What Does ‘Qualified’ Mean?

By Maria Fontanazza
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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.

FSMA, One Year Later: Top 5 Things We’ve Learned

By Erika Miller
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Now that the first of the FSMA compliance dates have passed, let’s look back at the past year of training new PCQIs, their questions and concerns from classes as well as the perspective from our FDA friends (yes, really!) who attended our workshops. We have learned so much, it is hard to narrow it down to only five things—but if we look at the issues that arose, the following five proved to be recurring themes throughout 2016.

5. Don’t Scrap Your Current Plan

Many clients have approached us and said they were planning to throw their current food safety and/or HACCP plan in the trash and start from scratch. Please don’t do this! Companies that care about quality and food safety already have effective quality management systems in place. It would be a disservice to the company and the general public for all these time-tested plans to go straight into the bin. It is more realistic to take a look at the current system in light of the new regulation and ask yourself if there are any gaps that can be addressed. This brings us to the next point.

4. Education Is Key

A compliant system cannot be developed without an understanding of the requirements. Although FSMA is derived from the basic principles of HACCP, there are key differences, and not all of them in the direction of less regulation. It is important to understand not only the updated Good Manufacturing Practices and Preventive Controls for both Human and Animal food, but also the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, Sanitary Transportation and the Produce Rule (if they apply). Although the FDA-recognized curriculum for some of these companion regulations have not yet been released, some independent training providers are offering workshops to help fill the gap while the FDA and FSPCA are working on the official curriculum. (Comment on this article for more information via email).

3. “You Must Evaluate If You Need It” Is Not the Same as “You Don’t Need It”

Some training providers have told their attendees that they can scrap many of their current systems because FSMA is less stringent than GFSI-approved schemes. Your certification body for FSSC 22000, SQF or BRC does not care one whit how stringent FSMA is (as long as you are compliant with its requirements, as local regulatory compliance is a key factor in GFSI approval). FSMA will not change expectations related to the GFSI-approved food safety schemes. It is also misleading to think that because FSMA is flexible, FDA regulators will not have expectations of excellence when they arrive at food processing facilities. This law gives regulators the power to take legal actions to address many infractions they have seen over the years but have been powerless to stop; the flexibility may well be a double-edged sword in that regard. Ensure that all decisions are based on data and records exist to validate any claims.

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

Qualified Food Plant Safety Individuals

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

The new requirements under Section 117 cGMPs of FSMA mandate that a “Qualified Individual” oversee the hazard analysis, preventive control process and Food Safety Plan. The expectation is that a plant operator designates qualified resources who are adequately represented during all food processing and handling at registered sites. In addition, the Qualified Individual stipulation requires that the organization provide resources to maintain the company’s GMP program and food safe processing, and to oversee key regulatory activities.

Learn more about FSMA compliance at this year’s Food Safety Consortium in Schaumburg, IL | December 7-8, 2016

Qualified or Competent Individual under FSMA Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls

The organization must provide Qualified Individuals in all areas to ensure the food safety of product processing, production and distribution. The key roles under “Qualified Individual” are described under Subpart C Section 117.126. This statute requires that the food safety system and plan requirements must be overseen by Qualified Individuals. This includes development of a Food Safety Plan—prepared, or its preparation overseen, by one or more preventive controls Qualified Individuals. Additionally, the statute, as described in cGMPs, indicates that experience, education, certification and other qualifications are appropriate for companies to determine Qualified Individuals.

Other FSMA requirements under Section 117 include the following (as summarized and aligned for specific cases):

  • 117.160(b) (1) Validate that preventive controls required under 117.135 are adequate to control hazards in the facility’s Food Safety System prior to development of the Food Safety Plan by Qualified Individual, or:
    • 117.160 (b) (2) validation of preventive controls within 90 days or a reasonable timeframe after production of applicable food begins by Qualified Individual.
    • 117.160 (c) food not applicable based on factors such as the nature of the hazard (including allergen, sanitation controls, recall plan, supply chain program or determined non-applicable hazards), as determined by Qualified Individual.
  • 117.165 (a) (4) As appropriate to the facility and its role in the Food Safety System, review records that are effective and make decisions about corrective actions by a Qualified Individual.
    • 117. 165 (a) (4) (i) Maintain records of monitoring and corrective actions within seven working days after the records are created by Qualified Individual.
  • 117.170 (c) (2) (ii) Reanalysis by the Qualified Individual every three years for the written justification of the Food Safety Plan exceeding 90 days after production of applicable food.
    • 117.170 (c) (2) (e) Preventive controls Qualified Individual must perform (or oversee) the reanalysis.
  • 117.180 Requirements applicable to a preventive controls Qualified Individual and Qualified Auditor are described in this section with the introduction of the Qualified Auditor-level resource.
  • 117.180 (a) One or more preventive controls Qualified Individuals must do or oversee:
    • Preparation of the Food Safety Plan
    • Validation of preventive controls
    • Written justification for validation that exceeds the first 90 days of production.
  • 117.180 (a) General processes and controls.
    • Overall sanitation of the plant must be under the supervision of one or more Competent Individuals assigned responsibility for this function.
  • 117.190 Implementation records required for this subpart.
    • Records that document applicable training for preventive controls Qualified Individual and Auditor.

These requirements under FSMA list the necessity of multiple Qualified Individuals, Qualified Auditors, and Competent Individuals for sanitation. Accordingly, all management and personnel must know, understand and be trained for the food safety aspects of their jobs.

Self-Diagnostic Assessment Tool

The following self-diagnostic assessment tool can help organizations better determine their current state of planning when it comes to determining and deploying the various Qualified Individuals in meeting FSMA. To complete your own planning assessment, review your progress compared to the questions below.

Food Safety Plan, Qualified Individuals, Checklist
Table I. Kestrel Management’s self-diagnostic tool can help a company assess its level of Food Safety System and Plan preparedness for FSMA compliance for the Qualified Individuals and personnel necessary to meet FSMA requirements.

Get Compliance-Ready

Companies must have the appropriate resources to comply with FSMA 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 GFSI certification—and change “No” responses into “Yes” responses that promote best practices for FSMA compliance.

FSMA Preventive Controls: Are You Prepared?

Get the checklist to assess your company’s readiness level. It’s a crucial part of the compliance process.

How Not to Fail at Online Food Safety Training

By Maria Fontanazza
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Training plays a crucial role in the FSMA Preventive Controls rule. As online learning becomes a more integral part of employee learning, companies may want to reexamine the methods they use to boost more effective outcomes. And for companies that currently use face-to-face training, investing in a virtual approach could encourage a more proactive employee learning experience.

Kathryn Birmingham, ImEpik
“Industry research tells us that company leaders want training that is relevant, in which employees can apply skills right away.” – Kathryn Birmingham, ImEpik

“Under the [Preventive Controls for] Human Food rule we have legal roles that didn’t exist before—we must create smarter career pathways for these new positions and responsibilities, such as the Qualified Individual under the PCQI, the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual, and the auditor,” says Kathryn Birmingham, vice president, research and development at ImEpik. “The compliance required for these new positions is a great opportunity to use innovative and scalable training models. This becomes even more important for ROI (return on investment) in training, when turnover is likely or when companies want to attract new talent into the food safety industry.”

In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Birmingham explains how companies can navigate some of the additional training requirements under FSMA and how interactive online learning may offer both employees and companies more successful results.

Food Safety Tech: What employee training challenges do today’s food companies face?

Kathryn Birmingham: As an educator, business owner and researcher who has designed certification and degree programs for workforce training in several industries, I see [that] the food manufacturing industry must move from lifetime experience training to training standards. For the first time, the evidence of QI training and PCQI credential are owned by the person as they move from company to company.

Food companies need a cost-effective training system that can assess knowledge, skills and competency standards. Industry research tells us that company leaders want training that is relevant, in which employees can apply skills right away. They want to be able to test the knowledge of persons in these new roles who are accountable for regulatory compliance. Thus they expect valid assessments in their certification training.

The demand is for smarter pathways to reach these new legal roles in the legislation for the QI and PCQI. Assisting in this area, we need to remember that food manufacturing companies view their number one job as making food, not completing paperwork or digital documentation, so when it comes to FSMA we have to come up with relevant training that can be applied right away.

FST: In what areas do you think companies are unprepared for FSMA implementation and compliance?

Birmingham: Companies seem to be least confident in terms of training in a few areas: For the legal role of the PCQI, they seem to be least confident about the record keeping requirements and foreign supplier verification areas.

For the role of the QI, standardized training doesn’t exist, but we know from the PCQI training that if the QI is required to implement the food safety plan under the PCQI, then QIs must understand components of the food safety plan and the hazard analysis. So it follows that the QI must also understand some scientific and regulatory factors related to the preventive controls along with the new language that must be used in the food safety plan and documentation.

FST: What tools or technologies should companies leverage?

Birmingham: Research and successful practice in workforce training tells us a few things. In order to speed learning and verify the trainee’s learning, knowledge and competencies, we recommend instructional methods that are immediately relevant, engaging and motivating. Effective training for food safety regulatory compliance helps the learner with stronger critical thinking for decision-making and encourages the learner to apply the skills right away. Modular instruction allows time for practice and reflection while increasing the odds of retention of the material. Relevant work simulations can teach technical and scientific knowledge as well as communication skills.

We recommend online training that demonstrates proficiency and mastery rather than passive learning. The learner must engage and practice what they’re learning, show an understanding, practice critical thinking, and pass valid assessment exercises.

Food safety online training, ImEpik
ImEpik’s survey aimed to understand expectations as well as effectiveness of online training. Infographic excerpt courtesy of ImEpik.

FST: Do you think a lot of passive learning is happening in the food industry?

Birmingham: [Birmingham cites a food safety online training survey conducted by ImEpik earlier this year; see Table I.] Survey responses from a sample of 140 companies are telling us that they’re not satisfied with lack of engagement in training offerings. Those overseeing training would like to see more valid assessments. In terms of passive learning, they don’t want to click through voice-over narration for training or have face-to-face training that is lecture style without a lot of engagement. They want to understand the learning outcomes and what they should be getting out of the curriculum as they move through the training.

Preference for Specific Online Learning Attributes
I Dislike It I Can Tolerate I Expect It I Like It
Multi-languages  10%
Valid Assessments  —  91%
Research-based Instructional Methodologies  —  79%
Learner Engagement  —  —  77%
Interactive Activities  —  —  73%
Certificate of Completion  —  65%
Supplementary Manual  —  55%
Animation  —  —  35%
Learning Analytics  —  —  55%
Table I. Results from ImEpik survey about food safety online training. While animation and learning analytics are not as expected in  online learning, these attributes are an important part of simulating the work experience in order to apply new knowledge, test specific content areas for clarity and assist the learner in remediation as needed. Data courtesy of ImEpik.

In the 2015 survey, 73% said they expect interactive activity in training while 91% expect valid assessment. People are looking for feedback as they progress through training. In the end they want to have the ability to prove what they know and can do.

With the emphasis now on FSMA, for companies to develop their entire food safety team, we need to rethink training and remember that it is possible to look at other industries and see what they’ve done with these career pathways for new roles that have been legislated. We can compare online training that is accessible anywhere and agile enough to train for new concepts quickly. Science and GMPs change. This is where a tool like online learning—not only full-course certification courses but also micro-learning modules—can really help the industry. And in the long run, it could be a better return on investment than face-to-face and long-term experiential learning.

Debby Newslow
FST Soapbox

FSMA’s Preventive Control’s and Current GFSI-Approved Scheme Compliance

By Debby L. Newslow
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Debby Newslow

Confusion reigns in many organizations and especially with our food safety and quality professionals, as we debate and attempt to decide how best to address the requirements of FSMA. With the first compliance date of September 2016 drawing near, companies are feeling increased pressure to take action. As many are already accredited to a GFSI-approved food safety scheme such as SQF Level 3, BRC, Primas, IFS or FSSC 22000, often the question is, how does my current system fit into FSMA, and where do I need to make changes? The undercurrent to this question is the implication that changing the system to fit FSMA will cause it to no longer be tailored for the desired GFSI food safety scheme, and that a change could cause issues with those audits (which are crucial for purchasing, marketing and sales).

The Food Safety Consortium will discuss critical industry issues, including FSMA compliance. The event takes place in Schaumburg, IL | December 5–9, 2016 | LEARN MOREAs with so many of our industry challenges, there is no easy and prescriptive answer to these questions. Each organization has to make the decision for their own system based on their individual hazard analysis, risk tolerance and resources. Some over-arching themes begin to emerge, which may be analyzed to assist the decision makers in the creation of a road map to FSMA compliance.

During our FSMA Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) training courses we are repeatedly asked, “What qualifies as a preventive control? Are our critical control points (CCPs) automatically a preventive control? How about our operational prerequisite programs (OPRPs)—are these PCs also?” While there is no easy answer (yes or no), there are some important things to keep in mind that can help in the decision.

The official answer is that a preventive control should be any point in the process where, with a loss of control, it is reasonably foreseeable that a significant food safety hazard either will occur or has an increased likelihood of occurrence. Remember this is intended to be a single point in the process, not the entire process. For example, the sanitation program may be managed as a prerequisite program; however, there may be a point in the process that requires special sanitation attention and without it, there is a reasonably foreseeable likelihood of a hazard.

Thinking about the concept, a logical conclusion is that a loss of control leads to a significant food safety hazard or, at the very least, increases the likelihood of said hazard. It follows that a loss of control would beget the need for a withdrawal if the product had already left the organization’s control. Therefore, one should only designate a point as a preventive control if the implications of conducting a recall in the event of failure have been analyzed as part of the risk assessment. The organization must be fully prepared to conduct such a recall in the event of failure.

The FSMA Preventive Control regulation (§21CFR117.135 – Preventive Controls) requires a recall program only if there is a preventive control identified in the process. Of course, any food processing organization would be remiss if they did not have an effective recall program defined and tested by regular mock recalls. Waiting for a true recall is no time to find out that your program has issues.  Even without a preventive control, what happens if a supplier contacts the processor with an issue that requires a recall?

Through the evolution of compliant and mature food safety management systems, it is common for an organization to initially identify multiple CCPs and then, through data collection and process improvements, slowly reduce the CCPs to control points managed through OPRPs or PRPs over time.  So, should an OPRP (Operational Prerequisite Program – ISO 22000:2005 Section 7.5) also be designated preventive control?  This is perhaps one of the grayest of gray areas in this arena.  A deviation in a preventive control, if the product has left the organization’s control, requires a recall.  A recall for a deviation in an OPRP is not absolute, and it is actually handled by the food safety team and management on a case-by-case basis, depending on the risk.  In addition, although identified when possible, a critical limit is not required for an OPRP (ISO 22000:2015 Section 7.5).  Parameters are required for a preventive control.

There really isn’t one answer that fits every situation, but it is important to remember that the requirements for FSMA Preventive Controls regulation (§21CFR117.135) are designed for those operations that in the past have not had the opportunity to define, implement and maintain a food safety program—one that includes a hazard analysis based on HACCP guidelines (Codex Alimentarius Commission [Annex to CAC/RCP 1-1969, Rev. 3 (2003)]) and/or a GFSI-approved food safety scheme.  Personally, we feel that if an organization has evaluated their process in compliance with a GFSI-approved food safety scheme, then any reasonably foreseeable hazards have been identified and addressed through a control point such as a CCP, OPRP or PRP. However, that said, upwards of 90% of recalls are linked to either ineffective or nonexistent PRPs such as allergen mislabeling, which accounted for 53% of all recalls last year. Thus, it is imperative that we evaluate all aspects of our processes with the same scrutiny that we do our microbial pathogen and metal control programs, which are common CCPs in today’s world of food safety.

Risks must be evaluated through an effective risk assessment based on science and facts. We start almost all of our workshops with the great American Society for Quality (ASQ) video: Cost of Poor Quality. This highlights the lack of an effective risk assessment performed on January 28, 1986, related to the launch of the Challenger. Unfortunately, emphasis was not on the fact that the engineers presented about the lack of cold temperature stability of critical O-rings, but rather on the fact that the launch had already been postponed for two days, and there was intense media and political hype surrounding the event. An effective risk assessment must be based on facts and objectivity, not on our feelings about what we want or need the decision to be.

FSMA PCQI training stresses the use of reliable and credible resources such as academia, trade organizations and process authorities. The internet itself can also be a valuable resource. Jon Porter stated in 2004, “HACCP, as we know it, would not exist without the internet.”  (If Jon could only see us now.)  However, again, we must be sure we are choosing credible information from the internet. We all know that we can usually find any answer we desire on the internet, but is it credible and accurate?

Competent industry sector-experienced consultants may also be good options if the organization ensures their credibility. Sometimes, a set of independent eyes can be just what the doctor ordered. Even in cases where the organization has a fully qualified team that is perfectly capable of managing the food safety program on their own, the right external resource (i.e., consultant) may provide an additional, independent viewpoint to your process. A friendly debate with an external resource can oftentimes open a whole new vista of previously unconsidered possibilities for the team.

The FSMA Preventive Controls regulation (§21CFR117.135) states that “each organization is required to have a PCQI that 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 FDA or be otherwise qualified through job experience to develop and apply a food safety system”. What qualifies an individual to be qualified through job experience is not specifically defined but is judged by the effectiveness of their food safety program. However, if FDA visits the facility and asks for the PCQI and no one has taken an FDA-recognized course—but there is someone that the organization has identified as qualified—this has the potential to start the visit off with a negative focus. We urge each organization to send two food safety associates to an FDA-recognized FSMA PCQI training course regardless of their background (this provides a back-up person in case the primary representative is ill, traveling for business or pleasure, wins the lottery, or otherwise leaves the company, etc.). This provides a strong foundation for the future, as ownership of the system is always crucial to not just surviving an inspection, but excelling—and as food safety professionals that is an idea we can all support.