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What I Learned from an FDA Seafood Guidance

I was on a flight to Boston, and in my hand was the FDA draft guidance, Seafood HACCP and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act: Guidance for Industry. HACCP is hazard analysis and critical control points, and the Seafood HACCP rule was published in 1995. I had received the FDA guidance document at the previous Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF) workshop that I taught in Seattle. In Seattle, I had several workshop participants who worked in the seafood industry. I had dined on delicious salmon in Seattle and was dreaming of eating fresh seafood in Boston.

A substantial difference between the Seattle workshop and the Boston workshop was that the Boston workshop was comprised of people from the milling and baking industry, not seafood. Darn. Seafood HACCP has a life of its own in regulation, and I was looking forward to learning more about seafood from the workshop participants. Reading the guidance would not further my expertise as a Lead Instructor for the Boston workshop, but nevertheless I was in the mood to read this compact document. As I skimmed the introductory material, I came to a nice question and answer (Q & A) format. The FDA always does a nice job of communicating important information through the format of Q & A. Sometimes it is just nice to see plain English from the FDA, and that’s what a Q & A provides.

I did learn some information specific to the seafood industry from the guidance document, but it was the general information from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that piqued my interest. Do you know the following three facts?

    1. Training and training records are now required.
    FDA is making a big deal out of training. Every person employed in the manufacturing, processing, packing or holding of food must be trained in food safety. There must be training records kept for each individual showing the individual is a “qualified individual” to perform his or her job. Supervisors must have additional training to demonstrate they are qualified to do their job.

    Who organizes the training records at your facility? The inspector will ask to see training records of employees. The more organized your company is, the easier it will be to show these records to the inspector. Training records can be paper, electronic, or a combination. FDA is focusing on training, so be prepared.

    2. Written sanitation procedures are not required for GMPs.
    Subpart B of the PCHF rule is Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and replaces GMPs found in 21 CFR 110. Subpart B does not require written sanitation procedures. This means that the chemical concentrations, equipment, times and temperatures for a cleaning or sanitizing procedure are not required to be written, but you should. See my previous blog post on Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs).

    The sanitation crew at most facilities has a lot of turnover and little supervision for an extremely important job. Writing the procedures will facilitate training, consistency and effectiveness of cleaning and sanitizing. Written monitoring procedures and corrective action records are required.

    3. Written sanitation procedures are required for sanitation preventive controls.
    In Subpart C of the PCHF rule, this is how the logic flows in the rule:

    1. A written food safety plan is required 21 CFR 117.126(a)(1).
    2. A food safety plan includes preventive controls 21 CFR 117.126(b)(2).
    3. Preventive controls must be written 21 CFR 117.135(b).
    4. Sanitation preventive controls are procedures, practices and processes 21 CFR 117.135(3).

Therefore, if a facility identifies a sanitation preventive control in the hazard analysis, written sanitation procedures are required.

If a facility has an allergen in one product, but not in another product from the same line, the facility will have a sanitation preventive control for the allergen clean procedure. If a facility produces a ready-to-eat product, the facility will have a sanitation preventive control for the cleaning and sanitizing procedure to control pathogens. Like Subpart B, written monitoring procedures and corrective action records are required.

Even with plain English, information can be confusing. When I am teaching the PCHF course, I warn the participants that the answer to a question may be, “You have to take that to legal.” I encourage you to visit the FSMA website and review FDA guidance documents. Boston was my 17th PCHF workshop, and I am still learning.

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.

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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.

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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.

The risk of factory footpaths

Traffic. I lived for 15 years in a Chicago suburb, where traffic to anywhere was a normal part of life. I didn’t hate the line of cars at a stop light or the stop-and-go on the interstate at rush hour. The opening scene of the musical LaLaLand starts with a visually beautiful number on the stalled LA freeway, a normal part of life there. The last episode of Homeland that I watched showed Saul waiting to enter the West Bank in a sea of cars. Traffic is a part of life. We are directed when and where to go.

In a visit to a food factory, I stood at the nexus and observed the traffic where every employee and every forklift traveled. I could see the employee entrance and the stairs to the employee break room. The forklift moved product from packaging to the dock. The stairs to the lab. The path to the maintenance room. The hall to the front offices. It was all there-so much traffic. A production worker walked through processing, through packaging to the raw side and back. The forklift went everywhere, including outside.

It was an old building that had been added to over and over again. Yet, in that one spot I could see so much. What I could not see was the transfer of pathogen contamination, and I was there to do thousands of dollars in testing to find the contamination. There was no concern of allergen cross-contact, but there was the concern of pathogen cross-contamination. The pathogen had gotten in somewhere, and the test results would show it was all over.

Foot traffic. Yes, there were footbaths. Could the production worker call a different worker on the raw side and eliminate that trip? When the employees enter from outside, there must be an area to shed the outer world and don clean coverings after hand-washing. That is not negotiable. Any time an employee uses the restroom, goes on break, goes to the lab, or goes to the office, they must not carry a pathogen out or in. Are there maintained footbaths, foot sprays, or air curtains to keep pathogens out of areas where product is exposed? Where is the transition area for each path? Are the employees trained to understand not only the how and when, but the why? Does your smoking policy send workers outside to their vehicles multiple times a day to track dirt back in the building?

What to do? Work needed to be done, and product needed to be moved. It’s all about transition areas. Could one forklift move the product on pallets to the dock area and another forklift pick up the pallet from the other side and load? Yes, forklifts dedicated to a task or an area do exist. You say you can’t afford dedicated forklifts for different areas? Can you afford a recall? I just read the average recall has a direct cost of $10 million. That’s a lot of forklifts.

The FDA will be judging your company for evidence of a food safety culture. How you manage your employee and forklift traffic becomes that evidence. A stop-and-go light is a sign directing the flow of traffic. Signs make our lives safer, and signs are evidence of a food safety culture. Set up transition areas and dedicated hand wash stations with clear access and signage. Create a food safety culture where every employee holds every other employee accountable to transition area procedures.

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.

Validation of Thermal Processes

I listened to a webinar by Adam Borger of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Food Research Institute on calculating thermal lethality of microorganisms in foods. In one hour, he did an excellent job of reviewing what I learned in Food Engineering class at the UW (OK, I learned more than that) and applied the information to show how industry can do the math. Have you ever had a process fail, but want to know if the heat was enough to kill? There are spreadsheets publicly available to do the math.

At the end of the talk, Adam referred to validation studies. Is your company one where validation of the kill step has yet to be done? Maybe you do baking, roasting or frying. Under FSMA, companies must have validation of process preventive controls. Our own Matthew Botos here at ConnectFood is a process authority for acidified foods. A process authority is someone who will work with you to validate your process with your product. Legally, manufacturers of acidified and low-acid canned food must use a process authority to validate the thermal process. Process authorities can be found among extension professors, contract labs, and consultants. While writing this blog, I did a search and found listings of process authorities by AFDO by state:

and the Department of Health and Human Services lists four universities in this document:

Only if you are hermetically sealing your product are you required to work with a process authority, internally or externally. Otherwise, validation of your process can be done in many ways. If you can find processing time and temperatures in the scientific literature for your product, you may cite that source. For example, milk pasteurization times and temperatures are published by FDA in the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. Similar published data may be available for your product. One way to do this search in on Google Scholar; ask a young person about that. After doing a search, you may still need to measure the temperature profile of your product through your process. BEWARE, Peanut Corporation of America, responsible for nine deaths from Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter, had a perfectly good roasting operation that WAS NOT VALIDATED. This is a great example for the need for validation of your process preventive controls.

Get that validation study in your food safety plan. Your FDA inspector will ask to see it.

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.

Regulators for Human Food – What are They Good For?

Regulators, what are they good for?

When I think about regulators, I think about the wonderful people I met this year while teaching the Preventive Controls for Human Food workshop. I had participants who were state inspectors, and I had FDA inspectors. Some were very knowledgeable and could have taught the workshop. Some were new to their jobs and were learning from the beginning just like many of the industry participants. We all have the same goal of safe food.

When I think about regulators, I think of the ones I have not met, but I know their stories. I know about the state inspector who bullied a company on a Friday afternoon to initiate a recall based on presumptive lab results. I know about the inspector who labeled a control panel swab as a zone 1 sample, and when it came back positive the company had to recall the product. I know about the inspector who chatted up the quality manager about personal matters and wasted a day’s work. There are stories after stories about the demanding, unknowledgeable inspectors who are unreasonable. Just like the news of the world, these are the stories we hear, and we start to believe they represent the whole. They do not.

I am encouraged to know that the inspectors are being trained using the same curriculum as that used to train industry. I am encouraged that FDA inspectors are in the same room with industry participants for the discussion and debate on the material. We are all in this together.

FDA rules and guidance documents are available for free on-line. The much-anticipated Hazards and Controls guidance was published in draft form at the end of August. See the link below. The document is in a six-month comment period. Individuals and organizations can submit comments. After the comment period, the FDA must address every comment, and publish the final guidance document. After working with the FDA, I expect this document to be published around the end of 2017. The Hazards and Controls guidance is critical to inspections. Some inspectors will use it as the bible for inspections. If the guidance identifies a hazard in the food you produce, you better have a preventive control for that hazard or have written justification as to why you do not have a preventive control for that hazard.

So, what do you do in the meantime? You can check the FDA Hazards and Controls draft guidance, or you can go to Canada! The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA; remember chapter 7 in the PCHF workshop?) has a searchable database; see the link below. This is a technical resource you can cite in your hazard analysis. Check it out!

I know there are many other resources for inspectors, including more training programs. The International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI) coordinates training of inspectors with the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). The IFPTI website provides a link to online courses available free for FDA, State, Local, Territorial & Tribal (SLTT) regulators at:
http://www.fda.gov/Training/ForStateLocalTribalRegulators/default.htm
This summer I asked about these courses being available to industry and the reply was yes, for a fee. Contact the Director of IFPTI, if you are interested in this training for your company.

FDA Hazards and Controls draft guidance
http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/ucm517412.htm
See Download the Draft Guidance.

CFIA searchable database
http://active.inspection.gc.ca/rdhi-bdrid/english/rdhi-bdrid/searece.aspx?i=11

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.

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I am a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual – what now?

I am a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). What have I gotten myself into?

First, congratulations! You have taken a big step in preventing hazards and providing a safe food for your customers. When teaching the PCQI course, we emphasize four major responsibilities of the PCQI:

  1. Create and implement the food safety plan
  2. Validate preventive controls in processing and potentially for allergens and sanitation
  3. Review records
  4. Reanalyze the food safety plan

As you can see these are large areas filled with details. Much of the work of a PCQI is focused on getting the food safety plan written, including the recall plan. You are going to do this in a team. It works better in a team. You can delegate. Reach out to personnel who you do not routinely work with, like human resources, sales, purchasing and transportation. I encourage my workshop participants to let go and let others do the work. As PCQI, you have to oversee the writing, but you do not have to do the writing. Find that super-organized person in your company, and have them do the organizing of materials and reminding others of deadlines set by the team. We all have that person who loves to tell others what to do. Put the full authority of the PCQI behind that person and unleash him or her.

Your day-to-day and week-to-week operations may not change much from what you do now. You will find steps where there is control of a hazard and document that. Much of this is done and already being done. In your hazards analysis, you identify process, sanitation, allergen and/or supply chain preventive controls, their corrective actions or corrections, and record keeping. You may identify hazards that were not previously identified and documented, but that work will just become part of your food safety system and part of your daily and weekly work along with what you have been doing.

Each PCQI works in a different food factory with different ingredients, equipment and products. Some factories have been operating the same way for decades and foresee no changes. Some factories are brand new. Some factories are expanding and bringing in new lines and their equipment. The food safety plan must be reanalyzed every three years, if there is no reason to do so earlier. Earlier reanalysis is at least discussed at the identification of a new hazard, new supplier, new equipment, new product… You get the picture. Any time there is a change in the food safety system, you as PCQI will document that you addressed the hazard potential and either changed the food safety plan or decided the current food safety plan controlled the hazard. The key to your success is documentation, but you already knew that!

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.