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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.

Software Update – Expert Services and SOP Template Library

Access Food Safety Experts and Standard Operating Procedure Templates

Announcing the major release of ConnectFood version 2.0! The release contains two major features:

  1. The Food Safety Expert Marketplace with On-Demand Services
  2. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) templates

In our continuing pursuit to best serve you, these two features help make writing Food Safety Plans even easier!

1. Food Safety Expert Services On Demand!

You now have the ability to hire highly-vetted food safety experts from
our national partner network at a fraction of the cost and at a faster response of traditional consulting services. Average experience of food safety experts is over 10 years in the food industry. You can request a FREE quote on any of the readily available services listed below:

  • Expert Help to Write Food Safety Plans
  • Expert Reviews of Existing Food Safety Plans
  • Process Authority Letters
  • Expert Help to Write Recall Plans
  • Standard Operating Procedures Development or Review
  • Audit Preparation
  • Laboratory Verification Tests
  • Laboratory Validation Tests
  • Good Manufacturing Practices Review
  • Implementation Record Review

ConnectFood Expert Services

Our Food Safety Expert network is composed of food engineers, chemical engineers, food scientists, and others involved in various aspects of food safety. They will partner with you to help you write your food safety plans and perform your hazard analysis. They can help ensure that your facility’s Good Manufacturing Practices (Code of Federal Regulations 117) are compliant. ConnectFood Expert Partners such as Process Authorities can help evaluate the worst-case parameters of your processing equipment. There are so many risk based variables to assess, and a food safety expert help will make sure you are addressing all of them to keep your food product manufacturing process safe and compliant with Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture regulations.

For a more detailed description of each service, be sure to login with your account and navigate to “Expert Services”.

If you are a Food Safety Expert and would like to join ConnectFood’s partner network, please contact us here.

2. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Template Library

Also included in this major release is a Sanitation SOP and SOP library. These are templates that you can import into your own list of SOPs to modify in order to save you time and start you off with some guidelines.

ConnectFood Expert Services

Well written Sanitation SOPs are the foundation of a good sanitation program. A sanitation program will include training records, Sanitation SOPs, and monitoring of sanitation preventive controls.

The ConnectFood SOP library is consistently growing the the number of templates available is a part of our Premium level subscription plan. Sign up today to gain access to this valuable feature!

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If I Am Compliant with a Third-Party Audit, Am I FSMA-Compliant?

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.

How Do I Write a Food Safety Plan?

Congratulations! You are looking for expert help in writing a food safety plan, and you found ConnectFood. ConnectFood developed software for an on-line food safety plan builder with you in mind, every step of the way. You are not alone. Behind the screen there is a cadre of food safety experts to help you. Through our knowledge, experience, and connections, we can help you write your food safety plan quickly. I have known Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood, since 2000. I know Matthew to work tirelessly for the food industry, to travel worldwide for training and helping the food industry, and to network with government agencies from local to federal.

FDA recently published their on-line food safety plan builder for food manufacturers. Like usual, FDA is late to the party and behind industry. I have worked alongside some fine people at FDA. They work hard to steer a huge, government system. Like the Titanic, reaction time is slow and often too late.

ConnectFood has been working with the food industry to write food safety plans for over three years. My biggest concern for companies writing their food safety plans is getting their questions answered in a timely fashion. FDA has a Technical Assistance Network (TAN) which will answer questions on the rule only. Don’t expect an answer within 24 hours. At FDA pace, it would take months to write a single food safety plan. If the question is outside the realm of the rule, companies will be referred to the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) TAN. Matthew, ConnectFood Experts, and I have access to members of the FSPCA TAN too.

Getting questions answered is one of the reasons that a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) is required to supervise the writing of a food safety plan. Do you know who is a PCQI? Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood, and I are. Not only are we PCQIs, but we are also Lead Instructors of the workshop for PCQIs. Matt Botos also is a Trainer of Trainers. Collectively, we have delivered over 50 PCQI workshops since the end of 2015. It is pretty safe to say we know the rule. Matthew is a food engineer, and I am a food microbiologist. Along with our network of food safety experts, ConnectFood has you covered. The ConnectFood software is a cost-effective method to get your food safety plan written. ConnectFood continues to develop cutting-edge easy-to-use software for an on-line food safety plan builder that can be used to showcase food safety either on-line or printed out to be shared with clients or regulators.

ConnectFood is not just for food manufacturing. Restaurants are using the ConnectFood software to build their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan. While the application is a bit different, the process of building a HACCP plan is the same. ConnectFood is the perfect solution for chefs and our foodservice friends: restaurant food safety could look like HACCP, the important part is to know your product, ask yourself if you have any hazards, and have a good safety plan!.

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.

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Food Allergens: Eight Key Points

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.

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What is a Food Process Authority?

Your FDA inspector will ask to see your validation study in your food safety plan. We have been talking to many companies who need a validation study of their kill step. In a previous post in this blog, Validation of Thermal Processes, I wrote about the need for validation of kill steps in processing. These steps are process preventive controls and part of your food safety plan.

There are options for getting the data you need for a validation of your process preventive control. You can use technical, published data; we recommend a Google Scholar search. You can partner with a local expert found at your contract lab, university, extension office, or consulting firm. While only required for manufacturers of acidified and low-acid canned foods, we like the idea of using a food process authority. A food process authority is someone who will work with you to validate your process with your equipment and with your product.

A food process authority can do many things for you. They will partner with you to evaluate the worst-case parameters of your processing equipment. Where are the cold spots? Where is the product exposed to the shortest time of processing? Does the temperature drift over the duration of a long shift? Have you scientifically determined the longest run time for your equipment? There are so many variables to assess, and a food process authority will make sure you are addressing all the variables.

A food process authority is often a food engineer or chemical engineer. You want to hire someone who has been in a lot of food facilities with a variety of processing equipment. With experience like that, they will have applied their knowledge in many operations and may have seen a set up like yours or worked with the same equipment at a different facility.

Where will you find a food process authority? At the same places listed above. Every state has a land-grant university. Every land-grant university employs university extension personnel, and it is among the extension personnel that you can expect to find a process authority. I found a listing of food process authorities by state on the website of the Association of Food & Drug Officials:
http://www.afdo.org/foodprocessing,

ConnectFood has a marketplace to access process authorities for acidified foods. If you are looking for process authority services, you may create a free account to access the Expert Marketplace and find one that fits your needs.

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.