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FDA Uses New Authority Under FSMA to Order a Mandatory Recall

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

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Enforcement Reports for Class II and Class III Recalls Offer Help to the Food Industry

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

Will My Facility Be Inspected? FDA Helps Small Businesses Determine Their Size

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

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FDA Listeria Draft Guidance for Ready-to-Eat Foods: Part 2

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

FDA Listeria Draft Guidance for Ready-to-Eat Foods: Part 1

FDA Listeria Draft Guidance for Ready-to-Eat Foods: Part 1 is an outline of essential information on the Listeria draft guidance, answering who, what, when, where, why and how questions. The guidance is written for companies manufacturing ready-to-eat (RTE) food and ingredients. As a guidance document the language is different from a rule where companies are required to comply. In general, an FDA guidance document does not require compliance, is written to help industry interpret rules, and explains FDA’s current thinking on a topic. The FDA Listeria Draft Guidance is different. In this author’s opinion, the guidance carries the full weight of a rule and will be enforced as such by FDA. If your company manufactures a RTE food, your President or company owner must be fully informed on the contents of the guidance. This paragraph answers why.

Who must test for Listeria?
All food companies making RTE foods under the jurisdiction of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What must be tested for Listeria?
The company will identify food contact surfaces (FCS) and non-food contact surfaces (NFCS) as appropriate to the design of individual facilities. Finished product testing is discussed in the guidance and is recommended.

    We recommend that you establish and implement a written procedure for the periodic collection of samples of your RTE food product, and for testing those samples for the presence of L. monocytogenes. See page 52.

What sterile supplies are needed?
The best method to sample a surface uses a premoistened, sterile sponge on a stick. My personal favorite comes from World Bioproducts. In addition to sponges, companies can use any sterile tool including Q-tip type swabs, tongue depressors to collect solids, scoops, dippers, pipets, bottles or bags. If you are concerned about contamination during sampling, have sterile gloves available for your technicians and intensify training. Finished product may be shipped in final packaging, or, if the finished product is large, a trained technician can obtain a portion aseptically to ship.

What lab method for Listeria is used?
When samples are sent to your contract lab, you specify for the testing of Listeria genus or Listeria monocytogenes. You can specify a one- or two-step enrichment. There are pros and cons for every method and its application, but you are expected to use a standard method which has been validated when testing for Listeria. Indicator tests which do not directly test for Listeria are useful for zone 1 and 2 samples; my favorite is an indicator test called HQA.

When are FCS sampled?
Warning! Warning! You are not going to like the answer. FDA wants food companies to sample FCS after three hours into production. The reasoning here is that microbial niches will have shook free and the conditions are representative of normal operations. Be very careful if following this FDA recommendation.

When are NFCS sampled?
NFCS can be sampled at any time provided food is not affected in the process of sampling and a positive Listeria test would not be associated with the product. When NFCS are tested as part of pre-op, this is a verification activity for a sanitation program.

Where are samples taken?
FCS and NFCS samples must be taken from every production line and from any area in the facility beyond production lines.

How many samples are taken?
A minimum of five samples from FCS (Zone 1) must be taken from every line every week. A minimum of five samples from NFCS must be taken. Imagine you have four lines in each room. You will take a minimum of five FCS samples from every line, for a total of 20 samples. Know that FDA is very conservative on their definition of FCS. For example, a control panel can be a FCS, if the technician who touches the panel in turn touches the production line or product. The same is true of overhead structures like pipes where condensate or powder could fall on to the product. How you interpret the minimum of five NFCS samples is up to you and dependent on the variables in that room. In general, FDA wants to see more samples from Zones 1 and 2 than from Zones 3 and 4.

What is the frequency of testing for Listeria?
Designing the sampling plan for Listeria testing is an art and a science and determines the cost to the company. Here are examples provided in the FDA Listeria Draft Guidance. See pp. 37-38. Pay attention to the wording on frequency:

    An example of how to specify the frequency of sample collection in a written environmental monitoring plan for FCSs in an establishment producing an RTE food that supports growth of L. monocytogenes is as follows:
    • Collect environmental samples from specific FCSs on the production lines at least once every week when the plant is in operation; and
    • Test each FCS in the plant at least once each month.

    An example of how to specify the frequency of sample collection in a written environmental monitoring plan for non-FCSs in an establishment producing an RTE food that supports growth of L. monocytogenes is as follows:
    • Collect environmental samples from representative sets of non-FCSs at least once weekly for zone 2 sites, every two weeks for zone 3 sites, and monthly for zone 4 sites when the plant is in operation; and
    • Test all non-FCS sites identified in the monitoring plan at least once each quarter.

Table 4 in the guidance, pp. 34-35, is the only published FDA guidance on zone designation of which this author is aware. Please share FDA publications on zone designation with me. I would love to talk through the design of your Listeria sampling plan with you. You can reach me by signing up for Expert Services on ConnectFood.com.

Of course you 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

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4 Signs of a Food Safety Culture

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

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How a Government Shutdown Affects Your Food Safety

A government shutdown looms on today’s horizon

January 19, 2018. There are many federal agencies working for the American people on food safety. Three examples are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for monitoring public health, identifying outbreaks, and investigating the source of outbreaks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes and enforces laws and guidance for ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers and inspects food companies for compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has parallel duties in food safety to FDA. USDA has jurisdiction over animal products, and FDA gets all the other foods.

CDC. The US is currently in an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes from potentially from Romaine lettuce. CDC is working closely with Canada, where the outbreak was first identified. There have been deaths. South Africa is currently investigating the largest outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes the world has ever seen. When last I saw, there have been 67 deaths. CDC personnel are certainly in communication with health officials in South Africa to monitor the outbreak and collaborate with food safety officials. Then there is flu season. CDC is responsible for monitoring the cases and number of deaths to track the impact of the flu. With a government shutdown, these non-essential duties and communication may cease, putting millions of Americans in harm.

FDA. FSMA has six laws currently under enforcement. Both the food industry and FDA have been ramping up compliance to the laws. FDA inspectors have been trained and are out doing FSMA inspections. FDA inspections where a user fee is levied will continue. FDA posts recalls daily. With a government shutdown, will recalls be deemed essential duties for the FDA? Will the recalls be announced? Will FDA arrive at the food factory to investigate? Will FDA meetings on recalls be postponed?

USDA. One significant difference between FDA and USDA is that animal slaughter, with subsequent meat packing operations, has mandatory supervision by a USDA inspector. Without the USDA inspector, there is no animal slaughter.

For more details on the affect of a shutdown, go to this PBS article.

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

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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.

September 18, 2017: Enforcement Date for Food Safety Plans

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.

2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium: A Review

On August 8th and 9th, 2017, the ConnectFood team hosted the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. There were nearly 250 food industry professionals that attended the two day event. ConnectFood organized and led the Symposium in order to continue the tradition, previously established by the Illinois Department of Public Health of bringing together regulators, academia, and industry professionals in order to work towards continuous improvement of the food safety environment in Illinois.

If you were unable to join us at the Symposium, we hope you enjoy this short overview of what you missed, and that you’ll be interested in attending next year!

The Symposium was started the Keynote address from Mike O’Grady, Vice President of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, and Molly Lamb, Deputy Director at Illinois Department of Public Health. Both touched on the fact that the food safety industry in Illinois is incredibly strong, but that there are many areas that are being expanded and strengthened. Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood, introduced two of our exhibitors: Cheryl Hodges from Miller & Stryker, and Renee Hoggay from the National Restaurant Association, and encouraged them to speak about their products and businesses.

Matthew Botos, CEO, ConnectFood, welcoming the crowd to the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

As participants refilled their coffee mugs and grabbed morning snacks, Dr. Robert Brackett, Director of Institute for Food Safety and Health set up for his discussion of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) & Compliance. He began by introducing the foundation of FSMA – why is it necessary? In the shortest summary possible: FSMA is necessary because food supply is more complex, and an increased percentage of the population is at risk for foodborne illnesses. Dr. Brackett also covered the seven rules of FSMA: Preventive Controls for Human Foods and Animal Foods, Produce Safety, Foreign Supplier Verification Program, Accredited Third Party Certification, Sanitary Transport, and Intentional Adulteration. The first FSMA Compliance dates are right around the corner (this month, in fact): September 17-19th, 2017, so if you need help making sure you’re compliant, now is the time to act.

Dr. Bob Brackett at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

After lunch, Dave Park, Principal, Food Defense, LLC spoke on the topic of Food Defense. He touched base on the history of food defense, food fraud, the intentional adulteration rule, and the comparison of new regulations to HACCP. Mr. Park highlighted food defense audit failures, threats and risks, imports and refusals, and food fraud incidents. “The general Hazard Analysis and Vulnerability Assessment procedure is the same, but the perspectives and expert knowledge bases used are different.” We are told to “Remember: Food Safety + Food Defense = Food Protection.”

Dave Park speaking at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

Next, Matthew Botos moderated a panel regarding Distribution and Transportation of Products, featuring the expertise of Tanesia Cole, Manager of Food Regulatory Compliance at US Foods, and Jeff Newey, Manager of Deseret Transportation. Both members of the panel highlighted their individual company’s background; explaining what they ship, how their shipment process works, and the procedures that are in place to ensure safety in the distribution step. Both touched on the transportation rule of FSMA, urging folks to shift their way of thinking to match the safety regulations of the new rule.

Tanesia Cole & Jeff Newey at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

To close out day one, Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood, and Chris Metz, CTO of ConnectFood, hosted a demonstration of the ConnectFood.com software. I won’t dive too much into detail here, but if you’re interested in a software demonstration, please contact us & we would be pleased to show you around our website. We wrapped up the day with a short reception, and set our focus on day two.

Matt Botos, CEO, and Chris Metz, CTO, ConnectFood, at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

Day two opened with William Weissinger, District Director at FDA Chicago District, speaking about FDA Inspections & Enforcement Then and Now: Changes Over 5 Years. Ultimately, Weissinger said that the current goal of FDA inspections is to educate while regulating, meaning that the industry shouldn’t attempt to know exactly what to expect during an inspection, as inspections are by special assignment. In addition, it was stressed that all food manufacturers (regardless of size) must be registered with the FDA. (If you need help with that, contact us.)

William Weissinger speaking at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

Jessica McAnelly, Chief, Division of Food, Drugs, and Dairies at Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), took over the podium next. She spoke on the state of public health in Illinois, which ended up being a major talking point for a lot of attendees. She spoke about new legislation and updates to the existing legislation. Allergen awareness training is included in these updates – a main change included was that the certified food protection manager must get allergen training within 30 days of employment at a high-risk restaurant. Another major announcement of this presentation was that IDPH will no longer validate hours for Food Service Sanitation Manager Certification (FSSMC) – the Certified Food Protection Manager is a required, national certification.

Jessica McAnelly speaking at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

After lunch, it was Eric Greenberg, Principal Attorney, Eric F. Greenberg, P.C.’s turn to chat with participants about Labeling & Nutrition. The finalized changes for the FDA for Nutrition Facts Label are as follows: calories presented more prominently, an altered format, and added sugars included. Unfortunately, these changes have been postponed indefinitely. In Mr. Greenberg’s words: “One thing’s for sure in the future: Label compliance will always be primarily the responsibility of food companies, and this is especially so given the FDA’s enforcement patterns.”

Eric Greenberg at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium,

ConnectFood team member Dr. Kathy Knutson moderated our second day panel. (You’ve probably read her outstanding blogs for ConnectFood – if not, check them out here.) This panel included members Joseph Cooper, Emergency Response Coordinator, Chicago District Office, Mancia Walker, Supervisor, Indianapolis Resident Post OHAFO 6E, and Christinae Hudson, Consumer Complaint Coordinator, Chicago District Office. They discussed Recalls & Outbreaks – what they’d seen, effective ways to handle them, and how important recall plans are for the safety of a company. A crowd pleaser that was discussed was the Blue Bell ice cream recall that was enforced across the state of Texas after the delicious ice cream was contaminated with Listeria.

Dr. Kathy Knutson and Matt Botos moderate the Recalls and Outbreaks panel.

The final speaker at the Symposium was Laurie Jahn, Senior Environmental Health Program Specialist of Lake County Health Department, talking about juice production & safety. The objectives of this presentation were to understand the methods of fresh juice processing, determine the code regulations, and present labeling requirements for bottling fresh juice. The main concerns with fresh juice are the possibilities of cross contamination and that there is no kill step, which leaves the juice untreated.

Laurie Jahn speaking at the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.

Matthew Botos wrapped up the Symposium with a final “thank you!” to everyone that joined us. If you attended the Symposium and have some feedback or need to obtain your certificate of completion, please complete this survey. As always, the ConnectFood team is always available to help you understand food safety. All you need to do is contact us.

Johanna Seidel has been a team member with ConnectFood since July 2016. She holds a B.F.A. from West Texas A&M University. She helped organize and run the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium. https://www.linkedin.com/in/johanna-seidel-3a98b6130/

Johanna Seidel, ConnectFood, celebrating the completion of the 2017 Illinois Food Safety Symposium.