Your company is generating a record right now. Somewhere in the facility there is monitoring, a new employee is being trained, or ingredients are being shipped to you. I have written in previous posts here on ConnectFood.com about required and recommended records. Below is an outline of topics which generate records in need of management.

What records must my company have?

    Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPS). Every food facility is required to follow GMPs.* You will feel confident in an inspection or audit if you have good documentation for GMPs.
    Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

      Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) are required when a sanitation preventive control is identified in the hazard analysis and for some allergen preventive controls.*

    Training records*
    Hazard Analysis*
    Validation study for each process preventive control or critical control point*
    • Shelf-life study, recommended
    • Supply chain program

      Supply chain preventive controls are required for ingredients for which the supplier controls the hazard.*

    Receiving records for ingredients with a supply chain preventive control*
    • Monitoring and Verification*
    • Calibration of monitoring devices*
    • Equipment maintenance, recommended
    • Corrective action*
    Recall plan*

*Required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

“How do I store all these records?”

This is a question I always get in a training workshop. It usually starts with, “I have a HACCP plan” or “I have records for auditing” and proceeds to the concern of getting rid of everything that has been done up to now and starting over. The answer is an emphatic “No!” to starting over. Your company is not going to rid itself of the old systems and start with the new kid on the block. Everything you have done for record keeping is still valuable and fits into the new food safety or HACCP plan. The next question is harder. “How do I organize my food safety plan and my required records for audits?” Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, because it is completely up to you.

Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood, did have a response to the above question:

“Records are of the utmost importance in the food safety risk management system. As I have said probably thousands of times (as have my peers): “If you haven’t documented it, you have not done it.” Records have traditionally been paper records, but over the decades with advancements in technology we are now ready to “trust” electronic records. As always, they are only as good as the information we put into them. What I can tell you is that there are companies like ConnectFood which will facilitate the storage and retrieval of records. In the electronic world that we live in, electronic storage of records is no longer just the future, it is the present.”

When the FDA inspector requests review of an electronic record, there is no requirement to supply a paper copy or printout. Records can be stored in the “cloud” if they can be retrieved. Imagine being on the floor in operations with an inspector and you are asked for the pH meter calibration record from a year ago. You can pull up the record on your phone or tablet and move on to the next question.

For your ease of mind, it is important that you understand how electronic records are stored and retrieved at your company so that you can efficiently display the record for review. What I tell my workshop participants and clients is to find the person at your company who loves office supplies. This is the tell that they love to sort, store, and organize things. Do they have every color of highlighter? I do. Do they have a label maker? I do. While my desk is often messy, my office supplies are organized and labeled. If you need a pad of paper, this person knows exactly where to get one for you. This is the person you want to task with organizing records electronically, too. As quality manager or Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) you have too much on your plate, and I want you to delegate when possible.

Once a system for records management is created, all food safety team members should be required to follow the system. There should be no stray records being held outside of the system and unavailable to the entire team. Never rely on one single person having access to part of the records. Store electronic records in a common location for two or more years.

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

This week was a historic week for the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Three times since the signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, FDA has used its new authority, i.e. new tools to prevent illness or injury from food. In 2012, FDA suspended the facility registration of Sunland, Inc. of Portales, New Mexico, a manufacturer of peanut butter. In 2013, FDA sent a Notification of Opportunity to Initiate a Voluntary Recall to Kasel Associates Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of pet treats. This week, FDA ordered a mandatory recall of kratom products from Triangle Pharmanaturals, LLC of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The FDA used its authority under FSMA to order a recall. This is a big deal. In all the history of food safety and the FDA, this is the first time the FDA has announced a mandatory recall. There have been thousands of recalls in FDA’s history, and before this week, every single recall has been voluntary and announced by the company.

What were FDA’s options before FSMA? Traditionally, FDA has followed up inspections with Form 483. Observations are detailed on Form 483, and the company must respond with corrective action to each observation. FDA has written soft letters, had phone conversations and sent email messages to communicate. Beyond communication and for more action, the FDA sends Warning Letters and can go to federal court to seek either an injunction to halt sale of product or an order for seizure of product. Product seizure can be taking product off store shelves or stopping finished product from entering commerce. Those are a lot of options! In the three cases stated above, FDA used many tactics to communicate and work with the companies, before getting to the last straw.

Case 1. Sunland peanut butter sold finished product containing Salmonella.
A little research on Sunland shows a long history of peanut butter recalls and FDA communication from 2009 to 2012. Just a year and a half after President Obama signed FSMA and four years before the food industry came under compliance and enforcement, the FDA exercised its new authority. For my readers who favor less government and less rules, look at what FDA did before pulling Sunland’s registration:

    1. 2007: Form 483 following inspection 10/25/2007
    2. 2009: Form 483 following inspection 3/10/2009
    3. 2010: Form 483 following inspection 9/23/2010
    4. 2011: Form 483 following inspection 3/25/2011
    5. 2012: Form 483 following inspection 10/29/2012

For the 2012 inspection, FDA was on-site for one month and listed the details of ten observations. Given authority under FSMA, FDA was able to stop production of Salmonella-laden peanut butter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the Salmonella outbreak from Sunland peanut butter covered 20 states and was responsible for 42 cases. Children under 10 were 61% of the cases, and 28% of cases were hospitalized. We know that diagnosed and reported illnesses represent a small portion of all persons with illness from an outbreak. Dozens of companies using peanut butter in their products went through subsequent recalls because of the peanut butter recall. I know, because it was my job to follow recalls and post them to ConnectFood’s Twitter.

Case 2. Kasel dog treats recalled after Salmonella found.
FDA has authority for enforcement and compliance over animal food. In February of 2013 Kasel was manufacturing dog treats and was re-inspected. In a 2012 inspection, Salmonella was found in the dog treats, in the processing environment, and on food contact surfaces. FDA inspectors cited problems with Kasel’s Good Manufacturing Practices including building repair, pest control and cleaning and sanitizing procedures. The dog treats had either a one-year or two-year expiration date. Kasel was given two days to initiate a voluntary recall after receiving FDA’s Notification of Opportunity to Initiate a Voluntary Recall, and Kasel complied by announcing a voluntary recall on February 19, 2013. Here’s my favorite sentence from the Notification: If you do not voluntarily cease distribution and conduct a recall in the time and manner described in this section, FDA may, by order, require you to immediately cease distribution of the affected pet treats. Fast-forward to 2018. FDA is rigorously inspecting animal food manufacturers, and we have seen a wave of pet food recalls [author’s note: choose Animal Health for from the drop down menu of recall categories], primarily of raw pet food.

Case 3. Triangle Pharmanaturals’ kratom products contain Salmonella.
Remember all those options available to the FDA? It seems the FDA used them and got no response from the company in return. FDA sent Triangle Pharmanauturals a Notification of Opportunity to Initiate a Voluntary Recall with no response from the company. All companies in the past which have received this letter from the FDA have followed up with a voluntary recall, because this is the first company which has not! This is the evidence I have gathered against Triangle Pharmanaturals. There is currently (April 2018) a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella. During interviews in March of people ill from Salmonella, when specifically asked, 40 of 55 reported consuming kratom before getting sick. Salmonella has been isolated twice from Triangle Pharmanaturals’ products by the state of Oregon and four times by FDA. Triangle Pharmanaturals’ competitors have recalled their kratom products. As I am writing this, I received updated recall information to include 38 states and 132 confirmed cases.

These three companies have in common that their products contained Salmonella. To me as a microbiologist, that is interesting. More importantly, their company names are forever tied to the history of FDA in the fight of foodborne illness. Personally, I am thankful for the work of the FDA and CDC.

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

All of us have our personal culture in which we live. How we spend our time at home and on the weekend creates our culture. The time we spend with our neighbors, friends, family and church defines us. Think of the clothes we wear, the food we eat and our traditions. Now think of the culture at your work. Think of the clothes we wear, the rituals in our procedures, and the food we make for customers. What is the status of your food safety culture?

When the FDA inspector visits your facility, the inspector will be looking for evidence of a good food safety culture. If you work in food safety or quality management, you work hard. You wear many hats. When the FDA inspector comes, your records will be inspected, and your employees will be observed. You prepare for that. You have good, organized records. You have good training programs for your employees. Most companies are confident in addressing records and training and making the evidence appear for the inspector. While the inspector is reviewing records and observing employees, the inspector is looking for evidence of a food safety culture. This is touchy-feely and sometimes hard to document. The culture is who you are and how you work together.

What does food safety culture look like? Start with your employees. Are the uniforms clean? Is their footwear of good quality and cleanable? How is their personal hygiene? Do all employees practice good handwashing? These observations plus good recordkeeping lay the foundation of a favorable food safety culture. These parts of a food safety culture are obvious to most and will be discussed more in this blog. In a second blog, I discuss 5 Signs You Don’t Have a Food Safety Culture.

Training records are complete for each employee.
Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)’s PCHF rule, training records are required for every employee. The FDA inspector will review your training records as part of a FSMA inspection. Companies earning more than $1,000,000 annually must have a PCQI, and most PCQI will provide a certificate from their training. Going beyond the PCQI, all other employees are qualified individuals, i.e. qualified to do their job. Ensure that your training records are complete, up-to-date, and show how an employee is qualified to do their job.

Your company uses signage.
Show me the sign! We have all seen the sign in the public bathroom stating employees must wash hands before returning to work. I think we get a little numb to the handwashing command. In fact, you cannot invest enough time and resources for proper handwashing. Besides handwashing, we use signs to direct employees to do many things. Signs are great! I am a huge proponent of signs. First, a picture says a thousand words; use pictures on your signs. Make the signs language appropriate for your employees. Use universal symbols as much as possible. Use color. If your employees are getting numb to the signs, move the signs. Change it up. Change the color. Change the shape.

As I travel to different food factories and am escorted into operations, I am always impressed by well-used and maintained handwashing stations, perfectly placed in a transition area and before entering operations. I like to see reminder signs. I love to see posted directions on the proper method for washing hands. My biggest pet peeve with handwashing is people not rinsing and wetting their hands before applying soap. Rinse first! Also, how many of us lather the full length of two “Happy Birthday” songs? That is the minimum time for just the lathering step.

Your company has obvious means for employees to report problems and offer suggestions.
Do you have a suggestion box in the lunchroom? As you observe employees in operations, do they freely discuss concerns with each other and supervisors? There should be an obvious and free exchange of information at all times. A red flag is when an employee is asked a question they should know and states they do not know. Does your company have team meetings with operators? Team meetings should include all shifts and facilitate communication among operators.

I worked with a company where the President sat at the conference table with his Vice Presidents and Managers. Over and over, I witnessed the President shutting down the excuses for food safety shortcomings. He was preaching food safety culture. Sanitation doesn’t have enough thermometers. Buy more. It’s not practical to record data in real time. Find a technology that works in real time. Occasionally a foot foamer is not working. Have a back-up ready to go.

Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood.com, tells us, “Food Safety is ‘Basics Done Well’. As described, risk management best practices start at the top and filter all the way down to every employee and vendor. Food Safety is everyone’s responsibility. There are many tools out there to help companies.”

It is difficult to present a favorable food safety culture and sometimes more difficult to measure. The topic of a food safety culture is new and will develop over time in the food industry. As we continue to talk to each other about food safety culture, we will know it when we see it, and we will be able to measure it.

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

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

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.

I am writing this on September 18th, 2017. For over a year I have trained people in workshops that this date is the FDA enforcement date for all food companies as regulated under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)’s Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. The small companies had more time for compliance, but this is it. Time is up.

Going forward from this day, all food companies in the United States earning more than $1 million in annual revenue must have a written food safety plan. The written food safety plan starts with a written hazard analysis and ends with a written recall plan. The food safety plan must meet the requirements in Subpart C of the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Today changes the way I teach, the way FDA enforces, and the way food companies prove food safety.

Even though today is the day, word on the street is that the FDA is a little behind on FSMA inspections. The FDA has done a great job training inspectors, providing guidance, and giving inspectors the tools they need. I hear that FSMA inspections will be more like audits: with the emphasis on review of the food safety plan and employee training records. There will be less time walking the line and more time reviewing monitoring and verification records. That being said, most FDA inspections are still for Good Manufacturing Practices, found in Subpart B of the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. If your company manufactures a product that has been recalled by a competitor or is known to be under high scrutiny by the FDA, then you should be prepared for an inspection in the near future. If not, you may have more time to prepare.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Did you find this blog post because your food safety plan is not finished or you feel it is lacking? I do not want you to feel alone or isolated from the resources and help you need. There are plenty of food companies still writing their food safety plans, so you are in good company if yours is not yet complete. You have landed in the right place – let ConnectFood help you get it done!

ConnectFood is a great tool to write your food safety plan. You can choose the free option, which is a good place to start, or you can subscribe for a low, reasonable cost. By subscribing, you will have access to the ConnectFood experts, like ConnectFood CEO Matthew Botos, myself, and other ConnectFood experts. If we don’t have the answer, we have a vast network of food safety experts to get you the answers you need.

Please comment on this blog post below. I love feedback! 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.

One of the biggest challenges for a company and its Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) is organizing both the food safety plan and materials for an audit. The food safety plan will be reviewed by the local, state, or FDA inspector. Some companies are under USDA inspection as well. In my experience, most food companies have a third-party audit for BRC, SQF, or ISO 22000 certification or with an auditing firm specializing in food manufacturing. How do you prepare for both?

There are different requirements for a government inspection and a third-party audit. The inspection is driven by public health and regulations. Food facilities will be inspected against the requirements for Good Manufacturing Practices, hazard analysis, preventive controls, and recall plan found in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Quite frankly, the government is not concerned at all with your audit criteria. The focus will be on public health and FSMA rules. Going forward, FDA inspections will evolve in to more audit-like activities with the emphasis on record review. The PCQI is required to organize or oversee the organization of records. The goal is to be inspection-ready at all times.

Much of the material that is required for an audit is the same for an inspection. Each certification or auditing body has their own requirements, and often the PCQI has the responsibility of organizing these materials also. Do you need help with organization? I encourage PCQIs whom I train to find that one person at work who loves office supplies. Put them in charge of labeling and storing materials. Trust me, they will love it! Also, find the person who is exceptionally good at organizing electronic documents. Put them in charge of developing the system of storage and retrieval. The PCQI just needs to know where paper and electronic files are and how to access them.

Do you remember Venn diagrams? List everything you need for an inspection in one circle. List everything you need for an audit in a second circle. What overlaps, and what is unique? One option is duplicating common records for both inspection and for auditing. Another option is to keep records unique to an inspection separate from records unique to an audit and have one record of common records. The inspector will not review records unique to an audit. As you are working through this organization, focus on the best location for individual records, in general. Records for an inspection can be paper or electronic, in a format of your choice. There is no mandate for use of forms. Focus on what makes sense for storage and then retrieval of records.

Let’s go back to the original question. If I am compliant with a third-party audit, am I FSMA-compliant? Maybe; it depends. The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule requires a written hazards analysis which identifies hazards requiring a preventive control. The preventive controls go beyond process preventive controls to include allergen, sanitation, and supply chain preventive controls. If all the preventive controls are addressed in the audit requirements, then you are covered for both an inspection and audit. Beyond the Human Food rule, are you compliant with the Sanitary Transportation rule? In 2019, compliance with the Intentional Adulteration rule takes effect. Are you required to comply with any of the other FSMA rules? The answer is complicated.

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.

I have been teaching for over a year from the Preventive Controls for Human Food curriculum and feel quite comfortable with the topic of food allergens. I heard a talk by Dr. Steve Taylor, Co-Director and Founder of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. These are eight key points I learned.

  1. The science of food allergens is new. Food allergens were recognized in 1988. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association from a physician at the Mayo Clinic reported eight deaths associated with the consumption of food and development of an allergic response. I don’t know the details, but I do know that 1988 was not a long time ago.
  2. Besides the United States, Canada, the EU, FAO and Codex Alimentarius recognize the Big 8 allergens. The Big 8 are dairy, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat. I wrote that list off the top of my head! Teaching the workshop helps. In the United States, the Big 8 are regulated under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Other countries may recognize other allergens or include sulfites, which are technically not allergens.
  3. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulls food from the shelf and tests for undeclared allergens. Let that sink in.
  4. Very few universities teach the science of food allergens. With food allergens being the number one cause of recalls and food packaging being most responsible, students need to understand quality assurance in a food manufacturing facility and effective methods for cleaning to remove allergens.
  5. Fourteen different companies make test kits for allergens. Buyer beware. There are sensitivity and matrix differences that will get you significantly different results. You are not mandated, but are highly encouraged, to validate your allergen clean process.
  6. Food allergens cause up to 40% of eczema.
  7. Physicians were wrong to tell parents to not introduce peanut butter to infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics guideline for introducing peanut butter is at 4-6 months for infants at highest risk with other food allergies or severe eczema and earlier for infants at lower risk. It is best to blend the peanut butter in another food, to avoid its choking hazard. A peanut butter campaign for pediatricians is needed to reverse the thinking of physicians and well-meaning grandparents. Soon peanut patches will be available, like the technology of nicotine patches.
  8. A safe dose of each allergen does exist. While the US currently has a zero-tolerance policy for allergens, more research is needed to understand low thresholds for each allergen where an allergic response would not occur. In the future, we may move to defect action levels being allowed for each allergen, as the lowest amount allowed in food at a safe level for all.

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.

You have a supply chain program. The supply chain program is a prerequisite programfor the safe manufacture of your product. For your ingredients, packaging and other materials, you are sourcing the best materials at the price you are willing to pay. For each ingredient, you have agreed upon specifications with your supplier. Some of those specs are sensory-related, like color, and affect quality. Some of those specs are chemical, like pH or moisture content. Some of those specs are microbiological, like Aerobic Plate Count or absence of Salmonella.

  1. Supply chain preventive controls are required for ingredients where YOUR suppliers control the hazards.
  2. A supply chain preventive control is required for imported packaging when a hazard is identified

The second requirement above is enforced under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) rule. Do you have imported ingredients? These must meet the same food safety standards as domestic ingredients, under the FSVP rule.

Only for those ingredients where you have identified a hazard requiring a preventive control AND the preventive control is a supply chain preventive control, are you REQUIRED to have a supply chain preventive control in your written food safety plan.

Most food manufacturers do not have a supply chain preventive control.

Why would you not have a supply chain preventive control?

  1. You have not identified a hazard in an ingredient or packaging.
  2. You identified a hazard and are controlling the hazard under your own roof.
  3. Your customer will control the hazard.

The good news is there is no validation of a supply chain preventive control! The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule only requires validation of process preventive controls. If you want to read the requirements for supply chain preventive controls in the FDA rule, follow the previous link and find Subpart G at the end of the rule. However, I recommend starting with the FDA At-a-glance document which provides a neat summary of the rule.

Paperwork! Paperwork! Yes, it is all about verification. Include verification of your supply chain preventive control in your food safety plan. Your FDA inspector will ask to see it. Supplier verification is discussed in a separate blog post.

Still not sure if you have a supply chain preventive control? 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.

In the blog post, The Basics of Sanitation in the Food Industry, I laid the foundation for a successful sanitation program. I discussed:

  • What is soil?
  • The sanitation crew members are your most valuable employees.
  • There are four crucial factors for successful cleaning and sanitizing.
  • What are clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-out-of-place (COP) procedures?

Sanitation crews work hard. Sanitation crews have a lot of turnover and require extensive training and monitoring. The crew must be supplied with the resources they need to do the job right. Crew members must be trained to handle chemicals safely and wear appropriate personal protective equipment. The crew is supplied with EPA-registered cleaning and sanitizing chemicals and follow the manufacturer’s directions. After training and when an employee’s performance is good, please pay them well.

On this foundation, companies will build a sanitation program with training records, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), and monitoring of sanitation preventive controls.

Document training.

Every sanitation crew member is a qualified individual as defined by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. FSMA requires documented training records. Most companies fulfill this function through human resources, but owners of small companies may be doing this record-keeping. Because training records are required, you must be ready for a federal or state inspector to review the training records. During the on-boarding process of a new sanitation crew member, document the training. Document a follow-up observation to confirm the work is being done correctly. Document additional training as the employee takes on more responsibilities.

Document cleaning and sanitizing procedures.

SSOPs are detailed step-by-step procedures and can be written with your chemical supply company. The chemical supply company should have resources to answer all your questions. The SSOPs will be tailored to your manufacturing equipment, your product, and your cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Beyond your chemical supply company, there is a wealth of information to sift through on-line. ConnectFood provides resources on their site and will match you up with experts in the design of cleaning and sanitizing programs.

Your company may already be doing all the right steps for cleaning and sanitizing, and that is great! Attaining clean and sanitary equipment as well as manufacturing environments supersedes all other sanitation team goals. However, written SSOPs will help to ensure that all sanitation crew members are following the same steps in the way the procedures were designed. Written SSOPs are critical to training. Remember, there is usually great turnover in sanitation crews, and new employees are frequently being on-boarded. If crew members are unsure about a step or disagree about a step, the written SSOP will explain the procedure to follow. If there are deviations, the written SSOP will get the process back on track.

I highly encourage clients to write SSOPs with pictures of the chemical labels, tools being used on equipment, clean-in-place control panels and tanks, and the finished job of clean surfaces. A picture is worth ten thousand words, said Fred R. Barnard. Click here to see a splendid example of an SSOP with pictures that I found on-line.

Effective SSOPs are key in our complex world of allergen control. Does your product contain one or more allergens? The big eight regulated by the FDA are wheat, soy, egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. If you make a product which contains an allergen and then use the same line to make another product without the allergen, you must have a complete allergen clean step. The clean step is designed to remove residue of the allergen, so that cross-contact into the next product does not occur. In this case you would have a preventive control for the allergen.

Monitor cleaning and sanitizing.

If you have an allergen clean step or an environmental monitoring program as required by the FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Food rule, you will have a preventive control in your cleaning and sanitizing program. With a preventive control comes the requirement to monitor and document the step. Record-keeping proves you did what you say you are doing in your SSOPs. Keep this simple! Here are examples of what you can record:

  • Visual check after cleaning with a simple pass/fail
  • ATP test result
  • Amount of cleaner added to what amount of water
  • pH of cleaning solution
  • Concentration of sanitizer with a dip test strip
  • CIP tank temperature
  • CIP run time on a recording chart
  • Sanitation supervisor checks that an allergen clean was done after production with an allergen

Use this list as a menu of choices and add your own options. If this information creates more questions, seek out resources. The science of cleaning and sanitizing is vast, in which some people have devoted their entire careers. The concept is that you must prove that you did what you say you are doing in your SSOPs. If critical parameters for successful cleaning and sanitizing are time, temperature, and concentration, then how are you going to document the data?

The search for forms and checklists can be overwhelming, and the ConnectFood website has free resources. The partners at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Dr. Kathy Knutson 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.

In a previous ConnectFood blog, Recalls: Lessons Learned, I wrote about some personal experience working with industry during recalls. I discussed:

  • Are you sure you must initiate a recall?
  • Get yourself a good lawyer.
  • Don’t move that product!

There are two important reasons to have a written recall plan. First, the rule requires it, and, second, the written recall plan will get you organized in the case of an actual recall.

There is a requirement for a written recall plan in the rule, Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-based Preventive Controls for Human Food. In Subpart C of the rule, any facility that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food must complete a written hazard analysis. There are facilities which are exempt from a hazard analysis. Farms are exempt. Facilities earning an average of less than $1,000,000 in revenue are exempt. Food service operations like grocery stores and restaurants are exempt. If a food facility does not perform a hazard analysis, the facility must provide evidence of oversight by a non-federal entity, like a state department of agriculture or a local health department.

It is in the hazard analysis that hazards requiring a preventive control are identified. Right up front in Subpart C we see the Contents of a food safety plan

, and (4) The written recall plan as required by § 117.139(a).

Turning to 21 CFR 117.139(a), we see Recall plan.
For food with a hazard requiring a preventive control:
Does your product potentially have a hazard? Have you identified a hazard requiring a preventive control in the hazard analysis? If you have a ready-to-eat product, you have a hazard, namely an environmental pathogen. If your product has an allergen, you have a hazard. Does your process have metal-on-metal or other physical hazards?

If you have identified a hazard requiring a preventive control in the hazard analysis, you must have a written recall plan as part of your food safety plan.

The recall plan must include written procedures which the company will follow in the event of a recall. Most recalls are announced on Fridays, and then it is all hands-on-deck. The recall plan must name the position of who will do each procedure. You can include names and contact numbers in the recall plan; just remember to keep it updated. Here are some examples. Who is the:

  1. Single person to initiate the recall. Who has the responsibility to pull the trigger on a recall?
  2. Internal recall coordinator. This person may not be a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual.
  3. FDA recall coordinator
  4. State recall coordinator
  5. Accountant. A recall is going to be costly.
  6. Attorney or firm for the recall. Find an attorney who has recall experience.
  7. Contact for communication to the public and press. The public must be notified of the hazard.
  8. Sales personnel who must notify each customer, communicate if the product is to be returned or disposed, and calculate the daily effectiveness check which accounts for how much product has been recovered.

A team of experts must decide the fate of the recalled food. The company will work with the state and/or FDA recall coordinator, attorney, quality assurance personnel, and contract lab. The company may hire a consultant to investigate the cause of the hazard and advise through the recall. If a plan is developed for the food to be reconditioned, reprocessed including relabeling, reworked, diverted, or destroyed, the company will present the plan to the FDA for acceptance.

A mock recall is not required, but highly encouraged.

A mock recall is when the recall team tests and updates the information in the written recall plan. I was reviewing a food safety plan with a client, and we came to the recall plan section. The quality manager informed me that she had just emailed with the FDA recall coordinator during the previous week, when I asked about mock recalls and the testing of the plan. The contact information was on the email signature for the FDA recall coordinator. On a whim, I said let’s call the number. The recorded message told us that the person could no longer be reached!

Since the mock recall is not required, the company will determine the frequency of the mock recall and if the date is announced or surprise. There are advantages and disadvantages both ways. The important concept in a mock recall is to go one step back to the source of an ingredient and one step forward to your customers. For every mock recall you do, take the practice seriously, and you will learn more about your systems and become more organized in your company.

Unfortunately, food recalls are an every-day occurrence in the food industry. Not only is a written plan required by law, but the written recall plan will help your company be organized in the case of an actual recall.

The search for forms and checklists can be overwhelming. The ConnectFood website has free resources. After you sign in for free, you will have access to forms and checklists. The folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Dr. Kathy Knutson 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.