“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these FDA Statements very helpful], a final guidance of Questions and Answers Regarding Mandatory Food Recalls, and two draft guidance documents – Public Availability of Lists of Retail Consignees to Effectuate Certain Human and Animal Food Recalls and Public Warning and Notification of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.