“FDA Seizes Food and Medical Products Held Under Insanitary Conditions at an Arkansas Grocery Warehouse.” This FDA News Release grabbed my attention. I have known since my first year of Food Science courses that FDA has the authority to seize product but does so rarely. After the Department of Justice filed the complaint in a U.S. District Court, armed marshals of the U.S. Marshals Service entered the Alma, Arkansas warehouses to detain products and keep products from entering interstate commerce. Does this sound like too much authority? This is from the FDA News Release:

    The complaint alleges that an inspection of J and L Grocery that the FDA conducted in September and October 2018 revealed insanitary conditions including multiple live and dead rodents, rodent nesting, live racoons, live cats, a dead possum, animal feces, and urine-stained products in and around the company’s seven warehouses and sheds used to store food, medical products and cosmetics.

The FDA got its hand slapped when the Office of Inspector General published findings in a 53-page report in 2017 detailing:

    FDA could not always ensure that firms initiated recalls promptly and that FDA did not always
    (1) evaluate health hazards in a timely manner,
    (2) issue audit check assignments at the appropriate level,
    (3) complete audit checks in accordance with its procedures,
    (4) collect timely and complete status reports from firms that have issued recalls,
    (5) track key recall data in the RES [Recall Enterprise System], and
    (6) maintain accurate recall data in the RES.

Remarkably, FDA agreed with the findings and started addressing the deficiencies before the final report was published. FDA was given more authority under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). My previous blog post described the first uses of FDA’s FSMA authority, including the first mandatory recall for a dietary supplement, kratom.

FDA has stepped up the game by publishing FDA Statements from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb [author’s note: I find these FDA Statements very helpful], a final guidance of Questions and Answers Regarding Mandatory Food Recalls, and two draft guidance documents – Public Availability of Lists of Retail Consignees to Effectuate Certain Human and Animal Food Recalls and Public Warning and Notification of Recalls. These documents coming from FDA allow us to get inside the head of FDA, learn the expectations for a recall, and work cooperatively with FDA in recall situations. I have been present at the start of recalls with industry and have been brought in for root cause analysis after the announcement of recalls. During crisis management in the food industry there is always the question of what FDA will do. Through these documents, FDA is telling us what they plan to do. Here is part of the Commissioner’s statement:

    The guidance further outlines how the FDA will give the responsible party an opportunity to conduct a voluntary recall before ordering a mandatory recall, as the law requires. It offers more detail about the evidence or circumstances the FDA may consider when deciding to move forward with a mandatory food recall and provides clarity around situations when the FDA would deem a food product a serious health risk. Providing this additional clarity can enable the FDA to make more robust use of this recall authority.

Recalls are stressful situations. The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule under FSMA requires a written recall plan. ConnectFood can help you meet the requirement of the rule and be prepared for a potential recall. The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

From Dr. Kathy Knutson, a photo from the U.S. Department of Justice, Marshals Service.

About the Author
Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
Kathy Knutson Food Safety Consulting LLC
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 has delivered over 20 workshops to the food industry. With 35+ years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an active communicator at all levels of 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 the 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.

As a high school teacher in Chicago, in a past career, I was on a school bus headed south to the university campus of Champaign-Urbana, riding through the flat cornfields of Illinois. One of my students pointed out the window and asked, “Dr. Knutson, what are those… factories over there?” My reply was, “that is a farm.” In light of the new FDA guidance, the question is valid. Do on-farm processing steps change a location from a traditional farm to a factory? My previous blog post started with the definitions of supplier, receiving facility, and farm mixed-type facility. Farms are not required to implement a food safety plan, and farm mixed-type facilities have been under enforcement discretion while FDA figures this out. FDA took a giant step in sharing their current thinking on the definitions of produce covered by the Produce Safety rule and the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. FDA recognizes the variety of produce grown on farms and approaches to building in food safety.

Produce Safety Rule Exemptions:

Farms with an annual average revenue under $25,000 are exempt. This makes sense from a public health view. Small farms are not going to cause wide-scale harm, in general. There are other exemptions for farms with an annual average revenue above $25,000 and based on how much is sold directly to customers through a farm stand-like store, local grocery store or restaurant. Another exemption is based on the sale of other products like hay or wine. For farms that don’t know where they fall, my advice is to ask an accountant and attorney to interpret the farm’s sales of commodities regarding the rule. See COVERED FARMS.

Produce is the edible portion of fruits and vegetables for human consumption. Produce grown for animal feed or other uses is exempt from the Produce Safety rule.

Grains are exempt from the Produce Safety rule because grains are always going to be further processed. Produce that is rarely consumed raw (RCR) is exempt from the Produce Safety rule. Examples include potatoes and beans.

Don’t worry about your backyard garden. Produce that is grown for personal use or on-farm consumption is exempt from the Produce Safety rule.

Farm Mixed-type Facilities:

The bottom line is that as soon as produce is processed in any way to make it a new food, the activity is under the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Most of us understand that roasting of nuts is a processing step that requires preventive controls to create a safe product. The same is true for making bags of chopped lettuce and sliced apples. These raw agricultural commodities (RAC) have been changed into processed food, and processed food is under the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

Until now, FDA has been hands-off on processing of RAC on the farm. If processing is done on a farm in a farm mixed-type facility, the process is under the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. The facility must have a written hazard analysis, implement a food safety plan, and have a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). The FDA is seeking comments on their published guidance for farm mixed-type facilities. In some ways, the FDA guidance seems like too much. Do we really need this for farms? Then I am reminded of Salmonella outbreaks from cantaloupe. In one outbreak the melons were only washed as a processing step, but in such a way as to not remove or kill pathogens. The outbreak covered 28 states with 143 hospitalizations of 147 documented cases. There were 33 deaths. Yes, we need this.

    “If you’re a farmer or anyone processing food whose company is interested in using ConnectFood to write or compile your food safety plan, check out our Enterprise tier. This Enterprise-level subscription allows you to experience full systems management, including having multi-facility supplier management, multi-facility records management, and direct access to food safety experts.” – Matthew Botos, CEO.

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 LLC
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 has delivered over 20 workshops to the food industry. With 35+ years in microbiology and 15 years of full-time teaching, Dr. Knutson is passionate about training and is an active communicator at all levels of 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 the 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.