The food that we consume is sourced from various farms located across the globe. Produced/procured under diverse environmental conditions, these food items are exposed to contaminants and allergens. The subsequent result of consuming contaminated food has often been visible through the spread of foodborne diseases.
In the United States, about 48 million people suffer from foodborne diseases, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from these diseases. This number comprises one-sixth of the nation’s population and hence, calls for significant attention from regulatory bodies.
During his tenure, President Barack Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) that enables the FDA to regulate standards for food safety when handling, preparation, and storage of food. FMSA is a positive step towards protecting public health by strengthening the food safety system with the help of drug testing for contaminants. The FDA can focus its attention on preventing food safety problems rather than reacting to problems after they occur.
Companies in the food industry need to be more cautious about complying with food safety standards that are now prevention- and risk-based in nature. They need to adhere to the national food safety regulations and enforce the programs. Governmental regulatory bodies will carry out surprise checks to ensure that national regulations are being met.
Here are the key prevention-oriented safety standards that players in the food industry should comply with:
1. Introduce Mandatory Preventive Controls
As per the FSMA, food facilities doing business in the United States are required to draft and implement a written preventive controls plan. This plan should include steps for evaluating the hazards that can affect food safety throughout the supply chain. Establishments must use advanced tests, like atp testing, to check for bio-contamination in the premise.
Also, it should clearly specify the preventive steps and control measures that will be put in place to significantly minimize or prevent the hazards. Companies need to ensure that they appoint a team that will monitor these controls and ensure they are in working condition. A special team that is responsible for maintaining routine records of the monitoring the execution of the preventive controls measures should be formed.
Additionally, the corporation must review its food safety plan and revise it at least once every three years. The purpose of these reviews will be to check the effectiveness of the plan under certain circumstances like when a preventive control is found to be ineffective.
If your corporation produces, processes or stores food items at different geographical locations, it is highly possible that these sites will be using different types of equipment and layout. In such a scenario, distinct preventive measures must be implemented, depending on the processes executed at each site. Also, the main facility must look into specific controls, like food allergen controls plan, based on its layout including processing lines, technologies, and raw materials utilized.
2. Comply with Mandated Inspection Frequency
The FSMA enables the FDA to decide upon a mandated inspection frequency, based on the risk for food facilities. As part of this mandated inspection rule, all high-risk domestic facilities must be inspected within five years of enactment and no less than every three years thereafter. It is, therefore, imperative for food facilities to diligently follow food safety standards and review the controls regularly.
Further, within one year of enactment of the FSMA, 600 foreign food facilities will be inspected by the FDA. This makes evading prevention-oriented food safety standards a risky matter. Food facilities are prohibited from failing to meet the requirements of the new section 418 of the FSMA. The section states that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) will conduct a study of the food processing sector under the Secretary’s jurisdiction. The inspection includes various drug testing methods that check the risk-based preventive controls in food facilities.
Random checking involves quality testing for process efficiency, monitoring environmental hygiene, and presence of allergens. Based on the inspection by the Secretary, and on determining whether or not the food from that facility is adulterated or misbranded, the FDA may consider different regulatory actions. These include:
- issuing advisory letters to the facility in question,
- announcing court actions, like seizure or injunction, and
- implementing administrative actions, including gaining control of adulterated or misbranded products, mandatory recall of contaminated food, or suspension of a facility’s food registration to prevent the shipment of the consignment.
3. Follow Importer’s Accountability
For companies that import food products, the FDA may conduct drug tests to check for contaminants, detain and refuse violating food items, or place imported food products on import alerts. This can even lead to detention of future shipments of a food item without physical examination.
As per the FDA norms, importers bringing in food to the United States have an explicit responsibility to verify that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place to ensure that the food they produce is safe.
Further, only qualified third parties can now certify foreign food establishments that comply with the US safety standards. It is only when this certification is received that the entry of imports can take place. Further, high-risk imported foods need to be accompanied by a credible third-party certification or other assurances of compliance.
To Sum Up
All players in the food industry, including the primary producers, manufacturers, retailers and food services, need to work together to improve risk-based food safety management throughout the entire supply chain. New acts like the FSMA by the FDA are formative steps in ensuring that several hazard-based, zero-tolerance approaches can be implemented to achieve positive food safety efforts.