FSMA: Strengthening Food Safety
Food Safety Modernization Act propels action, not reaction
Each year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Highly publicized cases of food safety and recall issues have resulted in huge legal settlements that significantly damage consumer confidence, not to mention the affected brands.
Jeff Van Pelt, food and beverage industry principal with OSIsoft, a real-time data management software provider, says he has noticed a shift in how processors are approaching the FSMA. “I’ve seen the manufacturing community work more closely with the FDA—more closely than I thought they would—and I think it’s for the benefit of the consumer,” he said. “Back in 2011, it wasn’t a case of collaboration, it was, ‘Here comes the government pushing paperwork down our throats.’ But they realized ultimately this process is going to benefit them in relation to protecting their brands.”Recent actions are trying to change this. Enacted in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) continues moving the food processing industry from traditionally reactive to increasingly proactive when it comes to food safety.
Specifically, he points to trends like clean labels and source of origin identification, as well as organic and non-GMO ingredients, explaining “A lot of things consumers are asking for is what FSMA is asking processors to do as well. A lot of the work processors did is actually providing them brand benefit when they go out to the market place.”
Still, it’s important to understand that FSMA compliance is not going to be a one and done exercise. Compliance, and how to efficiently achieve and document it will be a learning process both for food firms and the FDA. “Most of the early deadlines focused on things like creating a plan, infrastructure improvements and documentation. But the next wave of deadlines will focus on the full supply chain, prevention and food defense, particularly having the ability to predict when something’s going to go wrong,” Van Pelt explains.
Protecting Humans and Animals
Gayan Hettiarachchi, Director of Food Safety at Champion Petfoods in Edmonton, Alberta, agrees. Responsible for building his company’s food safety program, he points out FSMA requires improvements to the food safety culture beyond compliance from pet food manufacturers as well as human food processors. “We have to be in a position of always understanding any risks and hazards that could come through our ingredients or any of our processors, and effectively prevent such risks in our products,” he says.
Lack of FSMA awareness and regulatory guidance were some early FSMA challenges. “We began training about 20 team members, what we call PCQIs – Preventive Control Qualified Individuals,” Hettiarachchi describes. The application of the food safety tools, ingredient and process risk assessment helped to design, develop and improve Champion Petfoods’ food safety program, addressing the FSMA regulations – both animal food preventive control rule and the foreign supplier verification rule.
Establishing current good manufacturing practices and preventive controls for food safety also played a part in Champion’s recent DogStar® Kitchens in Auburn, Ky. The 371,000 s.f. kitchen was designed and built to help Champion meet the same food safety standards that are required for the manufacturing of human foods. As a result of continuous improvements to the food safety system and the Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification leveraging Global Markets Programme, Champion Petfoods was recognized as the first-ever recipient of the Global Markets Awards by the Global Food Safety Initiative in 2017.
The Government IS Here to Help You
There are tools available for helping understand FSMA better. The FDA’s Food Safety Plan Builder (FSPB) can assist owners/operators of food facilities with developing food safety plans specific to their facilities that meet Current Good Manufacturing Practices, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation.
Although the content of the Food Safety Plan Builder is consistent with the FDA's existing guidance and regulations, use of the Food Safety Plan Builder by owners and operators of food facilities is optional and does not mean their food safety plan and procedures comply with FDA requirements. In such cases, obtaining expert help is often the best case.
The FDA’s goal, through better communication, smart regulation and enhanced use of technology, is to shift our food system from one that reacts to problems to one that prevents them from happening in the first place, in the words of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib. “While the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, recent outbreaks continue to highlight the all-too-real consequences of foodborne illness, and the need to ensure that the goals of FSMA are fully achieved. Food safety needs to be priority number one from the farm to table."