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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.

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Training Basics for Preventive Controls Qualified Individual

Training of Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI): the Basics

Who trains PCQIs? Lead Instructors (LIs). LIs come from industry, academia, government, professional and trade associations, or are independent consultants like me. All LIs are PCQIs and attended a workshop using the FDA-recognized curriculum. There are hundreds of us. In the same way PCQIs are being tracked by the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI), there is a list of LIs. My guess is that half of LIs are in industry, teaching privately within their company. Think of very large companies and the need for internal training of PCQIs. Corporate LIs are getting people at each of their plants trained as PCQIs.

Professional and trade associations offer either private or public workshops. If you are in a specific field like produce (pun intended), dairy, bakery, or others, it may be beneficial for you to attend a PCQI workshop with an association serving your industry. You can go to the association website to look for training offerings. The other option when seeking a workshop is the list on the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) website. In order for PCQIs to receive a certificate from IFPTI and FSPCA, the workshop is registered with IFPTI. You can search by course, course start date or location, with a link to registration. Go to the following page and click on FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food Courses under RESOURCES:

https://www.ifsh.iit.edu/fspca/fspca-preventive-controls-human-food

or directly here might work: https://fspca.force.com/FSPCA/s/course_registration/Course_Registration__c/00B36000007edjpEAA

I just spent some time navigating the list, and it is frustrating. Hang in there! FSPCA updated their website, and it is not for the better on the course listing page. At this point, there is a PCQI workshop every business day somewhere in the world. As consultants, Matt Botos, ConnectFood CEO, and I teach both private and public workshops and are willing to travel almost anywhere in the world. Matt was sent to Kingston, Jamaica when other LIs refused to go. That’s our Matt!

Over 18,000 PCQIs have been trained using the FDA-recognized curriculum. Some are the sole PCQI at their facility. Other companies have sent waves of personnel to get trained and stacked their departments with multiple PCQIs. Even expert food safety consultants have gone through the training to receive the title of PCQI. No matter where they come from, all PCQIs have been trained with the same curriculum.

Every PCQI receives the same book and training from the same deck of PowerPoint slides. I have been trained to write curriculum at the high school and college level. The curriculum is practically perfect in presenting information in 16 chapters, each starting with objectives, then material, chapter summary and additional reading resources. The book is packed with information and used by PCQIs as the bible of food safety. PowerPoint slides, worksheets and model food safety plans are all provided. As a LI, I add my personal stories and can supplement my own slides or handouts into the presentation.

There is only one recognized curriculum. It involves 20 hours of training. A typical public workshop is two-and-one-half days. Private workshops can be designed any way you want. If you want to do ten weeks of two-hour training sessions, that works! Five, four-hour sessions work. The requirement is to cover all the material, and participants must be present at all times. There are training companies offering workshops with their own curriculum and materials which are not recognized by FDA. If a workshop is not registered with IFPTI, the participants will not receive a certificate from IFPTI and FSPCA. Receiving a certificate from a different organization does not meet the requirement in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule and will not be recognized by FDA. There are no on-line workshops at this time recognized by FDA. Buyer beware!

Matthew Botos and I welcome your questions about training.

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.