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What are Preventive Controls in the Food Industry?

Preventive controls are actions your company takes to ensure the product is safe. The FDA recognizes five types of preventive controls in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. They are process, allergen, sanitation, supply chain, and other preventive controls.

Food companies with more than $1 million in annual revenue are required under FSMA’s Preventive Controls for Human Food rule to conduct a hazard analysis and identify preventive controls. The company will consider biological, chemical, physical, and radiological hazards. The hazard analysis drives the discussion and decisions on preventive controls. For every hazard, there are actions the company takes to control the hazard.

Most food companies have a process preventive control and monitor time and temperature. The time and temperature are combined to control a biological hazard. Most companies have a metal detector, inspection of packaging to match the product and label allergens for an allergen preventive control, and monitoring of sanitation preventive controls for the control of environmental pathogens. FDA’s current thinking on environmental monitoring is detailed in the draft Listeria guidance. Process preventive controls and sanitation preventive controls may be designed to prevent foodborne illness, but did you know most recalls are due to the hazard of allergens? The food may be perfectly made, but if the packaging is wrong, the company will have a recall. Follow this link for just one example.

Some companies have so many redundant steps that it is difficult to name the step which is a preventive control. In this case, the food safety team should talk through their process and imagine taking away a step. I talked with a company that had multiple filters for their stream of product. To name every filter as a preventive control creates a lot of work and is unnecessary. Failure of the first filters was not a food safety issue because later filters work. The company visualized which filters were the most important for food safety by visualizing the removal of each individually. Where failure could result in a food safety hazard, the step was named as a preventive control.

If the hazard is controlled by the supplier, the receiving company must verify the hazard was controlled. An example is ice cream inclusions, like nuts. Imagine how the receiving company could verify the safety. COAs of course. Will the supplier share their food safety plan? An audit is required. Does the supplier have a validated process? Supply chain preventive controls are all about verification.

In addition to the four types of preventive controls mentioned above, the FDA also gives industry the option of other preventive control. I look at this type in two ways. First, your food safety team may disagree on naming the type of preventive control. For example, is an allergen clean a sanitation or allergen preventive control? It doesn’t matter! It only matters that it gets done. The second way that other can be used is if new scientific information emerges and does not fit into one of the four types of preventive controls. Current scientific understanding (below) means that we are always learning, and new information on hazards is always emerging. With the latest information, a company may need to reanalyze their food safety plan.

Here is the definition of preventive controls from the rule:

Preventive controls means those risk-based, reasonably appropriate procedures, practices, and processes that a person knowledgeable about the safe manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding of food would employ to significantly minimize or prevent the hazards identified under the hazard analysis that are consistent with the current scientific understanding of safe food manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding at the time of the analysis.”

The knowledgeable person ultimately is a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) in cooperation with engineers, microbiologists, and other food safety experts. The PCQI works with his or her food safety team to write the hazard analysis and identify preventive controls. The food industry has trained over 40,000 PCQIs in less than two years. PCQIs are your go-to people for food safety. If you are a small company in need of food safety expertise, the folks at ConnectFood are here to help.

Please comment on this blog post below. I love feedback! Still have questions? The ConnectFood website has free resources; click here to Contact us.

Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.

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What Happens at Receiving Does Not Stay at Receiving

Receiving is a critical operation within your company with great responsibilities.

  1. Receiving of raw materials potentially contaminated with pathogens
  2. Receiving of ingredients with known allergens
  3. Receiving of ingredients or packaging with a supply chain preventive control
  4. Prevention of intentional adulteration

Receiving personnel need access to records at Receiving. Do Receiving personnel have a tablet or computer to look up approved suppliers, specifications and other information? Stickers and placards should be readily available to label totes or pallets with QA hold, allergen, or other warnings. Receiving personnel must be properly trained in the receipt, labeling and handling of raw materials potentially contaminated with pathogens, ingredients with allergens, and ingredients or packaging with a supply chain preventive control.

Written procedures are required for Receiving for ingredients with a supply chain preventive control.

The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule Subpart G details the requirements for supply chain preventive controls. With every receipt of an ingredient with a supply chain preventive control, bill of lading should be checked, along with the receipt of documentation of the absence of the hazard. The latter is needed, regardless of the same lot being repeated.

Receiving should have written SOPs for the inspection of vehicles for sanitary transport and receipt of materials in intact totes or on intact pallets. Not only are you concerned about determining if pests have accessed the ingredient, you are also preventing cross-contamination of pathogens and cross-contact of allergens. Within the written SOP, address the refusal of goods where the truck is unsanitary or when the packaging is compromised.

The Intentional Adulteration rule is effective in 2019, and Receiving plays a more direct role. Many of the steps taken now, like sealing of gaskets, will be documented to comply with the rule. The focus of the rule is on liquid ingredients and ingredients with the potential to cause widespread harm to public health. As you are implementing your food safety plans, consider incorporating measures designed to prevent intentional adulteration at Receiving.

Once an ingredient is accepted and properly labeled, Receiving may be responsible for notifying QA of a QA hold or for proper moving of ingredients to storage. Proper handling does not compromise the ingredient through cross-contamination or cross-contact. Another part of the Intentional Adulteration rule addresses the disgruntled employee. Start at Receiving and walk through the potential for an employee to have access to an ingredient or process, with the intent of widespread harm.

Receiving personnel play a key role in the safety of food. By providing the training and resources necessary for them to do their job well, you create a culture of food safety from the beginning.

Paperwork! Paperwork! And more paperwork! Still have questions? The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.