I subscribe to alerts for Class I recalls from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The message goes to my email with a link to the press release. It’s a great automated system, and the number of alerts is small enough to manage daily in email. The FDA recalls more than just food – their recalls include biologics (medical products), animal health products (pet food), medical devices, drugs, cosmetics and tobacco. I didn’t sign up for everything, and the subject of the emails I receive helps me decide which ones I can delete without opening… efficient.

Class I recalls are announced when there is a large possibility a consumer will become ill or be injured from a food they have ingested; think of glass shards or pathogens in food. This is where the food industry spends research dollars and companies take measures to prevent biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Class I recalls are the ones we see in social media, which are heavily communicated on the news and posted about on the FDA website. Class I recalls must be entered into the Reportable Food Registry. Do you know what hazard is the number one cause of Class I recalls? The answer is… allergens: a chemical hazard. You cannot put too many resources into allergen management if your product contains an allergen.

I was recently reminded by a colleague to keep up with the Class I notices (done!) and enforcement reports. Hmmm, enforcement reports? In FDA’s words:

    “All recalls monitored by FDA are included in the Enforcement Report once they are classified and may be listed prior to classification when FDA determines the firm’s removal or correction of a marketed product(s) meets the definition of a recall. Once FDA completes the hazard assessment, the Enforcement Report entry will be updated with the recall classification.”

“Classified” does not mean the recall is top secret! There are three classes; Class I is discussed above as the most serious among the classes. A Class II recall is a situation where the probability of illness or injury is remote. Only the manufacturer can make the call on if the recall will be classified as Class I or II based upon the specifics of what went wrong. The situation has a possibility of illness or injury, but the chances are so small that the conditions for illness or injury are unusual or unlikely. A Class III recall is not likely to cause any illness or injury. Period. It absolutely will not happen. The fourth option in an enforcement report is “pending.” This means the FDA is still considering the class for the recall. You would think this is pretty straight forward, but recalls are one big bell curve. Class I and Class III extremes are easy to get right, but there is a huge bump in the middle for Class II. This leads me to the FDA website.

Enforcement reports are posted weekly. When you go to the previous link, click on the week of interest, then sort with the ‘Product Type’ dropdown menu for ‘Food’ or another category. Dietary supplements are posted under ‘Food,’ even though they are not food and are separately regulated. If you really want a scare, choose the category of ‘Drugs’ to see all the problems in that industry, or see pending recalls of drugs. In addition to the Class I recalls, the other classes are of interest as well.

We use enforcement reports to keep up with our industry. What problems do others in your commodity experience? When we read the Class II and Class III recalls, we see what problems are occurring in our industry. Are you in dairy, flour, nuts, or produce? Look for companies with similar commodities as both your ingredients and your products. As part of reviewing your written food safety plan, the food safety team is required to keep up with current science and potential hazards. One way to know what is going on in your commodity is to keep up with enforcement reports.

Have you heard all the recalls of pet food? These are not coming to my email, so I need to update my alerts. The ConnectFood website has free resources, including the ability to create a recall plan for your facility and products using the online software. The folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting
Dr. Kathy Knutson works nationwide with food manufacturers on recall investigations, problem-solving, training, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. After being trained in 2016 as a Lead Instructor with the FDA-recognized curriculum for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals, she delivered over 20 workshops to industry. With over 35 years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an effective communicator at all levels in an organization. She has taught and consulted with companies on laboratory methods, interpretation of lab results, quality assurance, sanitation, environmental monitoring, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a life-long learner, Dr. Knutson is trained in prevention of intentional adulteration, a topic on the horizon for the food industry. Dr. Knutson is a contributing author at CannabisIndustryJournal.com. Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through ConnectFood.com, an online site for writing HACCP and food safety plans. When Dr. Knutson is not traveling, she works from home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and an adorable Bernedoodle. Learn more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd

FDA published the draft guidance Determining the Number of Employees for Purposes of the “Small Business” Definition of Parts 117 and 507: Guidance for Industry on March 19, 2018. The comment period is through May 20, 2018. The purpose of the guidance is to raise awareness of exemptions for Part 117, the human food rule, and Part 507, the animal food rule. There is also a later compliance date for small businesses under the animal food rule of September 17, 2018, than originally set. I am addressing human food within this blog.

Why did FDA publish this draft guidance?
I’m having a difficult time understanding the publication of this Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) draft guidance at this time. It is helpful in defining subsidiary, affiliate, facility and full-time equivalent (FTE) employee. There are clear examples to showcase types of facilities and calculations of FTEs. The purpose of calculating FTEs is to determine if a facility is defined as a small business of less than 500 FTE employees. This is a concern when multiple facilities are related and if there are part-time or seasonal employees. This is a question I have tried my best to address in PCQI workshops for my participants. It’s nice to have the draft guidance. The reason I am having a difficult time is that it is a moot point for industry now. All small businesses came under enforcement in September 2017 for human food. Small businesses must meet the same requirements their larger competitors met in September 2016.

    I believe the reason for the publication of the draft guidance
    is not as much for industry as it is for the FDA.

Will my facility be inspected?*
FDA prioritizes their inspections, so FDA must know if a facility is a small business or larger. In fiscal year 2016-2017 when businesses with more than 500 employees came under enforcement, FDA’s goal was to complete 300 FSMA inspections. Facilities with more than 500 employees were under inspection first, because of the potential public health impact to a larger number of consumers. A total of 165 domestic and foreign FSMA inspections were completed. All other inspections-the majority-were Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) inspections. That trend will continue with most inspections being GMP inspections. The FDA continues to train its inspectors on FSMA, and FDA inspectors are primarily in a FSMA educator mode with industry. In fiscal year 2017-2018 the goal is higher at 500 FSMA inspections; the pace is faster.

In addition to the number of FTEs, there are other factors used by FDA to prioritize inspections.

    • Domestic and foreign facilities goals are 400 and 100 inspections, respectively.
    • Facilities with a current or previous Class I recall or warning letter
    • Facilities in the same market as a facility with a Class I recall
    • Facilities making a high-risk ingredient or product

      1. Ready-to-eat foods
      2. Foods identified in FDA’s Listeria risk assessment
      3. Foods otherwise with a history of risk

While it is not possible to know if your facility will be inspected until the FDA inspectors are at your door, you can determine the likelihood by using the same tools FDA has to prioritize inspections.

*The author participated in a Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance quarterly webinar for Lead Instructors on February 8, 2018, in which FDA inspection data was shared.

The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting
Dr. Kathy Knutson works nationwide with food manufacturers on recall investigations, problem-solving, training, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. After being trained in 2016 as a Lead Instructor with the FDA-recognized curriculum for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals, she delivered over 20 workshops to industry. With over 35 years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an effective communicator at all levels in an organization. She has taught and consulted with companies on laboratory methods, interpretation of lab results, quality assurance, sanitation, environmental monitoring, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a life-long learner, Dr. Knutson is trained in prevention of intentional adulteration, a topic on the horizon for the food industry. Dr. Knutson is a contributing author at CannabisIndustryJournal.com. Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through ConnectFood.com, an online site for writing HACCP and food safety plans. When Dr. Knutson is not traveling, she works from home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and an adorable Bernedoodle. Learn more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd

I first learned that Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen in 1985 during the Jalisco cheese outbreak in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California. There were 29 deaths from 86 documented cases. The veterinary world was very familiar with Listeria in cattle, long before food microbiologists. Industry and the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took this emerging pathogen seriously. Since 1985, there has been active research and investigations at universities and food companies. We know that Listeria is ubiquitous, and current lab methods improve our chances of finding Listeria.

FDA Listeria Draft Guidance for Ready-to-Eat Foods: Part 1, published previously at ConnectFood.com, discussed Listeria testing on food contact surfaces (FCS) and non-food contact surfaces (NFCS) and from finished product. We encourage you to study FDA’s draft guidance, Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods: Guidance for Industry. Here, I present three concepts needed to understand the information in the guidance.

A positive Listeria test from a FCS assumes the presence of Listeria in your product.

The guidance for ready-to-eat food recommends FCS be sampled after three hours of production and five FCS samples be collected per week per line. First consider these sample sites. The FCS sites should be after the final kill step. It does no good to sample FCS sites before the final kill step. If the test is positive, the assumption is that the final kill step killed the pathogen. The FCS sites are before the final product is sealed in packaging. Think about the distance where your product travels after the final kill step to where the package is sealed. In that distance, think about where the product is open to the environment. Listeria is an environmental pathogen. What I mean is if the product is in tubing, the product is not exposed to the environment, and these would not be FCS sites for Listeria. I am thinking about an ice cream plant. The mix travels through tubing until carton filling. The distance the product travels from the end of the tube to the carton is small, and the distance the open carton travels until sealed is small. Compare that to a large bakery. After leaving the oven on conveyor belts, the baked goods travel open to the environment for cooling and the addition of toppings. I have seen distance as long as 50 yards with the transfer onto multiple conveyor belts.

Once you have your FCS sites identified and if a FCS test is positive, it is assumed the product is positive, even without direct sampling and testing of the product. This makes sense. If a FCS is positive, the product touched the FCS. At that point it’s a chicken-and-the-egg discussion of whether the product contaminated the surface or the surface contaminated the product. It doesn’t matter until you do your root cause analysis. What you do know is that you have contaminated product.

A positive Listeria test from an environmental sample has an isolate identified as Listeria innocua or another Listeria species; consider Listeria monocytogenes as present.

Listeria monocytogenes is one of 17 species of Listeria. Only the species Listeria monocytogenes is considered a foodborne pathogen. When your contract lab tests for Listeria genus or spp., a positive test does not tell you the species. Further testing can identify the species, if needed. It is very common for the lab to report negative for Listeria monocytogenes and report the presence of Listeria innocua instead. In no way can you rest easy with a positive Listeria test and negative Listeria monocytogenes test. When the lab reports a positive Listeria test, consider Listeria monocytogenes present.

Consider the sampling site and technique. Let’s use the example of a drain swabbed with a sterile sponge. Assume Listeria monocytogenes is there. Perhaps the sponge did not swab the location of the pathogen. Perhaps the sponge did not get through the layers of goo where the pathogen is harbored. There are many reasons for missing the pathogen in the procedure for swabbing. If the test is positive for a different Listeria species, the conditions at that site are conducive for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. Corrective action must be done in the same way as if the test were positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

Consider the variety of microflora at the site. The site was not sterile and does contain diverse types of bacteria at different numbers and proportions to each other. Listeria monocytogenes is the wimpy kid on the playground. Listeria innocua outcompetes Listeria monocytogenes not just 10-to-1, but as much as 20:1 or 50:1! The mere chance of finding Listeria innocua instead of Listeria monocytogenes is simply greater. Listeria monocytogenes may have been present in the sample, in the testing, and simply not detected.

An environmental sample tests positive for Listeria genus or Listeria species (spp.); react as if the sample were positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

You will direct the lab in what method to use and at what point to stop the testing. Work with the contract lab in making this determination. After a positive test for Listeria genus or spp., you have the option to continue testing to identify the isolate of Listeria. This costs more money and time. Will you do something different with that information? No! It is not necessary to confirm the presence of Listeria monocytogenes from a positive Listeria genus or spp. test, when your corrective action is the same. Think this through before testing. Know the action the plant will take when a Listeria genus or spp. test is positive. Expect to get positives from zones 3 and 4. FDA inspectors should not have a problem with seeing occasional positive tests. Since Listeria is ubiquitous, you are expected to find it. The important part is what you do as corrective action. Follow-up testing should be negative to prove Listeria is eliminated from the site and the area adjacent to the site.

As you work through the FDA Listeria guidance, the ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting
Dr. Kathy Knutson works nationwide with food manufacturers on recall investigations, problem-solving, training, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. After being trained in 2016 as a Lead Instructor with the FDA-recognized curriculum for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals, she delivered over 20 workshops to industry. With over 35 years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an effective communicator at all levels in an organization. She has taught and consulted with companies on laboratory methods, interpretation of lab results, quality assurance, sanitation, environmental monitoring, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a life-long learner, Dr. Knutson is trained in prevention of intentional adulteration, a topic on the horizon for the food industry. Dr. Knutson is a contributing author at CannabisIndustryJournal.com. Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through ConnectFood.com, an online site for writing HACCP and food safety plans. When Dr. Knutson is not traveling, she works from home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and an adorable Bernedoodle. Learn more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd

If you are in a drought, just have me visit, because I seem to bring rain storms. At first, I was frustrated by rain and having to navigate to a facility new to me. But when touring food plants after or during a rain storm, it is a blessing. Now I pray for rain! Examine Your Facility During a Hard Rain was a slide title in a presentation by Kevin Lorcheim of ClorDiSys Solutions, Inc., during the workshop Key Elements of a Food Safety System. Hearing Kevin talk, plus there was an 80% chance of rain that afternoon, got me thinking about my visits to food plants.

The next time you get a hard rain, I encourage you to walk your entire facility and perimeter outside. When inside, you are going to look up at the ceilings. Search for any evidence of water getting in and dripping down. Are the ceiling tiles bowed and holding water? Do you see evidence of water from stained ceiling tiles or hanging light covers? Are tile tracks rusted? Pay particular attention to pipes and I-beams coming down from the ceiling and any water coming down.

The next level down is the dripping lines. In most facilities and when it rains, there will be excessive condensate dripping down from cold lines. Pay extra attention to areas over the open product, in packaging, in dry ingredient and packaging storage and in final product storage. While you are looking for condensate drips, look for leaking pipes. I am a professional leak detector. Product, steam or water. This is a point of high complacency in food plants, where employees get numb to leaks and don’t report them for repair. You do not need to pay a consultant to detect leaks. Repairing leaky pipes is critical for efficient operations.

I was in a plant one morning where liquid product was shooting from a pipe. The pinhole leak had been reported before midnight, and the split had grown. This was a 24/7 operation. Product was literally going down the drain. The QA Manager reported the leak; the pipe was repaired and reinstalled. Not long after, the pipe had split again and farther, so product was showering out. The QA Manager reported the leak again. Please train all employees on the importance of reporting leaks.

You are probably not standing at shipping or receiving as you read this, but when you get a hard rain, investigate those sites. When a driving rain hits the side of your building, does water ingress around bay doors and outside doors? As part of your facility walk, examine doors and outer walls as soon as possible after the rain to detect leaks. Look for rivers flowing from bay doors and wet floors under the doors. Many food plants have screened windows and other air intakes; check these too. Does the rain flow down an inside wall from an upper window?

As you walk your facility, has a new river of water formed on the floor? There may be a leak coming down along an I-beam or into an interior wall and then out. The good thing about water is that it follows the path of least resistance. When you start at the river on the floor, follow the path to the wall or interior structure, and trace back to the source.

Examine EVERY room from top to bottom in your facility: boiler room, maintenance, break room, dry storage, cooler, offices, shipping and receiving. Talk to your people and ask them where they see water. Do not skip any area. Be deliberative about seeing every room. It would be best to check the outside of the building during the rain storm. Walk the perimeter outside. Note standing water. Check the integrity of the building to keep water out. Check the that downspouts are functional.

By fixing your problems of water coming in, you will stop or prevent problems in your food plant. Still have questions? The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting
Dr. Kathy Knutson works nationwide with food manufacturers on recall investigations, problem-solving, training, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance. After being trained in 2016 as a Lead Instructor with the FDA-recognized curriculum for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals, she delivered over 20 workshops to industry. With over 35 years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an effective communicator at all levels in an organization. She has taught and consulted with companies on laboratory methods, interpretation of lab results, quality assurance, sanitation, environmental monitoring, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As a life-long learner, Dr. Knutson is trained in prevention of intentional adulteration, a topic on the horizon for the food industry. Dr. Knutson is a contributing author at CannabisIndustryJournal.com. Dr. Knutson writes a food safety blog and contributes expert services to manufacturers through ConnectFood.com, an online site for writing HACCP and food safety plans. When Dr. Knutson is not traveling, she works from home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and an adorable Bernedoodle. Learn more about her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd