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NOTE: The author is proud to be a cheesehead from Wisconsin. She is passionate about food safety… and football.

By Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in the prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA)

Pre-season football has begun, and the tourists have descended upon my hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Each year there is a bit of quiet during the months of May and June – after the NFL draft and before training camp in July. The rest of year, my town revolves around Packer games and activities. I can’t help but think about how food safety is like football.

Score is kept; records are established.
This year is the hundredth season for the Packers. There are 99 years of rosters, wins, losses, and stellar plays. Every adult in Green Bay over the age of 70 claims to have been at the Ice Bowl.

How does your company keep score? There are records for manhours, number of lines, number of SKUs, and how much of each product is manufactured daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Keeping documentation is critical to business. Management will know if it is a winning year or a losing year by analyzing the numbers made.

The organization has a reputation.
What do people say about your company and your product? Every detail of your organization from CEO to ball-inflater is not discussed on sports radio, but the details are discussed at the photocopier, on the line, and in the breakroom. What do your employees think? One way to see what your employees or former employees think is on the website glassdoor. Glassdoor is used by job seekers to see comments by your employees about your company. Check it out. You will probably be surprised, because it is mostly likely going to be the “armchair coaches” complaining about the company. It is easy to say what we would do if we were in charge.

What do your neighbors and community know about you, the company next door? Like the Packer organization, your company may be a large employer in a small town, where everyone knows someone who works for the organization. As an employee, you represent the organization and have an opportunity to help establish a good reputation. You see each other at the grocery store and in church. (Yes, I must brag for a moment that I see Packer players with their families at church.)

Another group you hear from is your customers. The company collects consumer complaints and feedback on the product. Routinely review this information with the food safety team to know what your customers think.

You need a good team to win.
It helps to have a superstar like Aaron Rodgers to lead your team, but manufacturing a safe product is teamwork and the effort of many. Every employee has a role, a position, if you will, to play. Individuals require training and development to learn their role and for you to provide resources to perform their job using best practices. When you invest in your players, they can do great things. Make training and development a part of the culture. Year after year, fill key positions with the best talent you can find. Players will move into new positions, and you will lose players. Recruit the best players. Surround yourself with excellence.

People are passionate about your product.
If you are not a sports fan, think of something you are passionate about – your family, your hobbies, etc. If you do follow a team, you feel the passion I’m referring to. You have clothes and paraphernalia with the team logo branded on them. You enjoy being with people who share your same passion. You celebrate wins and analyze and mourn the losses. You are willing to dedicate time to your passion; it is a priority. Instill this passion in your employees regarding food safety and best practices.

Your customers are loyal to the product, and your company takes brand loyalty seriously. The greatest sign of loyalty I have seen is customers during a recall saying they are going to eat the product anyway! While I am not a proponent of the decision, I respect the sentiment. Blue Bell ice cream has such a loyal following that when manufacturing was shut down and their ice cream was not available in the store, Blue Bell ice cream could be found for sale on eBay.

You need depth in key positions.
Life happens. Who would have predicted that Aaron Rodgers, the Packer’s 20+ million dollar man, would have a broken collar bone twice and be out the rest of each season? Employees get ill or go on vacation, often at the most inopportune time. How is your depth in food safety? If you only have one Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), what do you do if they leave? We are seeing companies have multiple PCQIs trained per facility to avoid issues if a situation were to arise. Companies that value food safety and want a food safety culture will invest in their key players.

Will your team have a winning season?
Like the football season, we don’t know what lies ahead for wins and losses. Who will step up to lead the team? Who will throw the Hail Mary for the exhilarating last-second win?! Many of my clients are now in their busy season leading to Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. As you follow your team, I will be following my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, until February and the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Go Pack Go!

Always remember: the way you practice is the way your company will perform.

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

In this blog we are going to talk about logs and record keeping. If you seem to continue seeing this topic as a constant theme within the food safety industry, it is because it is the way that all companies have to keep “score” in the food safety world. Documentation is what allows us to benchmark our progress. Records and logs exist so that an organization can tell their food safety story to both regulators and to their customers. Logs are a necessity for your food safety chain, and you can find example forms for logs and record keeping on ConnectFood.com.

An example of where records are important is if you have a deviation in the food production process. An instance of this would be that your chart recorder ceases to work during a thermal process, say batch heating a product with a pH below 4.1, and at the end of the run you realize that you do not have the chart-recorded log. In this case, other measurements such as handheld temperature monitoring or visual readouts of a redundant thermocouple could be used to showcase that you still have a safe product for the target consumer. You will then use these records and logs to show that you did, in fact, follow your process and that with adequate testing and record review the product would be safe to ship.

    “Implementation records document the actual implementation of the Food Safety Plan. In other words, implementation records demonstrate that you did what you were supposed to do. Examples of implementation records include, where applicable, records that document the actual monitoring of preventive controls, corrective actions taken, different verification activities performed, validation activities performed (if needed), the supply‐chain program checks and applicable training records.” –FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food course curriculum.

Records and logs tell a story: from the time a supplier provides an ingredient until the time the product is delivered to the consumer, there is documentation. This story can include a manufacturer asking for the records and logs of how an ingredient was processed to how it was shipped and stored before arriving. This story could follow the documentation of a low moisture ingredient that is shipped at ambient temperature but needs certain humidity controls. Or, it could be an example of fresh fish where the records must show temperature control and amount of time the product has been in transit. These records are all things that an FDA regulator will ask for and that a facility must be able to provide within the 24-hour restriction set by the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

Another area that companies wonder about in regards to record keeping is: how long do I need to keep records, and what if I want to use electronic records?

“Electronic or computerized records are acceptable in a preventive controls system as long as they are equivalent to paper records and electronic signatures are equivalent to traditional handwritten signatures. Controls are necessary to ensure that records are authentic, accurate and protected from unauthorized changes.” – FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food course curriculum. ConnectFood talked about the move towards electronic records in a recent online interview with Food Safety News.

When it comes to how long records need to be kept, the answer is a minimum of two years from the date the log or the record was created. The records that relate directly to the food safety plan and the product’s completed food safety plan must be kept on site. Collecting proper records and logs and having them readily available is how companies demonstrate that the food safety plan is working. You can find many of these best practices in the FSPCA manual.

Most important to remember when it comes to records and logs are that, 1. you know what you are monitoring and, 2. you have trained personnel in your facility. All the logs and records in the world will not make a difference if the person tracking and monitoring the records do not know why they are taking these records and how they impact the food safety plan. Having A Preventive Controls Qualified Individual on site that can review and sign off on logs is a critical part of your food safety process. The worst-case scenario is to have a complete plan and a detailed hazard analysis but then have records and logs that do not reflect the accuracy of your production. This can lead to recalls and other issues that jeopardize the company and the consumer.

Your recordkeeping is your product’s story: make sure you’re telling a good one. ConnectFood can help you get your documentation in order and provide you with example sheets for logging. Send us a message.

About the Author

Matthew Botos is the CEO and Founder of ConnectFood. ConnectFood offers a step-by-step, “Do-It-Yourself” food safety plan generator to help companies comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act and On-Demand plan reviews from a national network of food experts. Mr. Botos is currently on the Food Safety and Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) International Subcommittee. He is also one of few approved Train the Trainer instructors of the FSPCA Lead Instructor program launched in October 2015 and has taught over 800 of the nation’s leading food safety experts.

Start with the Written Food Safety Plan
As a member of the Expert Services team for ConnectFood, I recently completed a project writing a food safety plan in cooperation with a company owner. My perspective is always that the company I am working with remotely is doing the right things for food safety, and I am here to get plans written down and to put in place documentation of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) or preventive controls. I believe the company to be innocent of any food safety shortcomings, until proven “guilty”, i.e. the identification of a gap in food safety. Since this company was complex, members of the Expert Services team logged on for a real-time walk through the facility as seen remotely on our computer screens. I found this step of working with the company to be very helpful. The food safety plan was written, edited, and revised until we had a final product. The company is doing a respectable job of recording the specifics of a kill step. In the past, that may have satisfied requirements for HACCP supported by GMPs, but the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act requires so much more.

Supply Chain Preventive Controls
There are two areas this company needs to expand, and your company may be in the same boat. One is the supplier approval program to prove safety of foods and ingredients where the supplier is controlling the hazards. These are supply chain preventive controls for which control is proven by verification, and verification generates copious logs and records. The inspector will ask to see your Standard Operating Procedure for supplier approval, Certificates of Analysis (COA) for every delivery of an ingredient or food with a supply chain preventive control, verification of the COA, an audit or inspection of the supplier, and any other records which build the case of food safety.

Environmental Monitoring Program
The second area is the environmental monitoring program for control of Listeria in ready-to-eat (RTE) products. All facilities manufacturing RTE products have documentation of a sanitation preventive control. The cleaning and sanitizing program is designed to obliterate biofilms and microbial niches and kill pathogens on equipment and in the manufacturing environment. Validation is not required by the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule, but a validation study is highly encouraged. How do you know cleaning and sanitizing is working, if not validated? Verification of the sanitation preventive controls requires swabbing for indicator organisms and Listeria itself. The goal of the environmental monitoring program is to detect Listeria. Some companies have a fulltime employee dedicated to monitoring and recordkeeping to stay on top of the environmental monitoring program. The inspector will ask how many swabs are tested weekly and from which sites, where were the positives, and what was the corrective action. A robust program is expected to find Listeria. The key is to take appropriate corrective action and follow up to verify the problem was eradicated.

Templates for Standard Operating Procedures, logs, and records are available in the ConnectFood Library. If you are new to ConnectFood, take inventory of all the resources. If you have been working with ConnectFood already, take a minute to see what is new that can support you in your job. As always, we are real humans here to support you in food safety. Reach out at any time; 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

Your company is generating a record right now. Somewhere in the facility there is monitoring, a new employee is being trained, or ingredients are being shipped to you. I have written in previous posts here on ConnectFood.com about required and recommended records. Below is an outline of topics which generate records in need of management.

What records must my company have?

    Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPS). Every food facility is required to follow GMPs.* You will feel confident in an inspection or audit if you have good documentation for GMPs.
    Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

      Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) are required when a sanitation preventive control is identified in the hazard analysis and for some allergen preventive controls.*

    Training records*
    Hazard Analysis*
    Validation study for each process preventive control or critical control point*
    • Shelf-life study, recommended
    • Supply chain program

      Supply chain preventive controls are required for ingredients for which the supplier controls the hazard.*

    Receiving records for ingredients with a supply chain preventive control*
    • Monitoring and Verification*
    • Calibration of monitoring devices*
    • Equipment maintenance, recommended
    • Corrective action*
    Recall plan*

*Required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

“How do I store all these records?”

This is a question I always get in a training workshop. It usually starts with, “I have a HACCP plan” or “I have records for auditing” and proceeds to the concern of getting rid of everything that has been done up to now and starting over. The answer is an emphatic “No!” to starting over. Your company is not going to rid itself of the old systems and start with the new kid on the block. Everything you have done for record keeping is still valuable and fits into the new food safety or HACCP plan. The next question is harder. “How do I organize my food safety plan and my required records for audits?” Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, because it is completely up to you.

Matthew Botos, CEO of ConnectFood, did have a response to the above question:

“Records are of the utmost importance in the food safety risk management system. As I have said probably thousands of times (as have my peers): “If you haven’t documented it, you have not done it.” Records have traditionally been paper records, but over the decades with advancements in technology we are now ready to “trust” electronic records. As always, they are only as good as the information we put into them. What I can tell you is that there are companies like ConnectFood which will facilitate the storage and retrieval of records. In the electronic world that we live in, electronic storage of records is no longer just the future, it is the present.”

When the FDA inspector requests review of an electronic record, there is no requirement to supply a paper copy or printout. Records can be stored in the “cloud” if they can be retrieved. Imagine being on the floor in operations with an inspector and you are asked for the pH meter calibration record from a year ago. You can pull up the record on your phone or tablet and move on to the next question.

For your ease of mind, it is important that you understand how electronic records are stored and retrieved at your company so that you can efficiently display the record for review. What I tell my workshop participants and clients is to find the person at your company who loves office supplies. This is the tell that they love to sort, store, and organize things. Do they have every color of highlighter? I do. Do they have a label maker? I do. While my desk is often messy, my office supplies are organized and labeled. If you need a pad of paper, this person knows exactly where to get one for you. This is the person you want to task with organizing records electronically, too. As quality manager or Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) you have too much on your plate, and I want you to delegate when possible.

Once a system for records management is created, all food safety team members should be required to follow the system. There should be no stray records being held outside of the system and unavailable to the entire team. Never rely on one single person having access to part of the records. Store electronic records in a common location for two or more years.

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

Most food manufacturers do not have a supply chain preventive control and will not have supplier verification in their written food safety plan. A separate blog post of mine, Supply Chain Preventive Controls, discusses identification of a supply chain preventive control.

    1. Supply chain preventive controls are required for ingredients where YOUR suppliers control the hazards.
    2. A supply chain preventive control is required for imported packaging when a hazard is identified.

The safety of imported ingredients and imported packaging is enforced under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) rule. See the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule for supplier verification.

I get a Certificate of Analysis (COA) with my ingredient. I’m good, right?

Good, but you are not done. The way I approach supplier verification is as an attorney collecting evidence to build a case that a jury will decide. You are the attorney, and FDA is the jury. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate the ingredient is safe. Yes, it is all about verification. Your FDA inspector will review your supplier verification.

Before we go on to the requirements and just checking in, have you identified a hazard requiring a supply chain preventive control? If the answer is yes, read on!

Requirements for Supplier Verification

    1. Supplier approval
    2. COA or similar document with receipt of every shipment
    3. Sampling and testing for hazard
    4. On-site supplier audit

      a. Use of a qualified auditor
      b. Proof of corrective action implementation

This is an extensive list and a lot of work to prove the hazard was controlled by the supplier. Let’s look at an example with peanut butter as an ingredient in a candy bar. The peanut butter is not further processed to control hazards, and supplier verification for the peanut butter is required for the control of hazards like pathogens Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, aflatoxin, and physical hazards. The United States had two major outbreaks from Salmonella in peanut butter, and other nut butters are under heavy scrutiny by the FDA.

Supplier approval. The approval process is not mandated, so you have flexibility on how you determine the supplier is approved. Include the written Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for supplier approval in your food safety plan. You are required to document the supplier is approved. You are encouraged to complete this process before using the ingredient from this supplier. If not approved before you’re your Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) must document in the food safety plan the timeline and justification for later approval.

In both peanut butter outbreaks, part of the blame lies with the customers not doing enough for supplier approval and verification. If you are purchasing an ingredient in which the pathogens are killed, the supplier is required to use a validated process preventive control. Ask for the results of the validation study and documents proving the process is validated, monitored and verified. Some suppliers are not willing to share this information. If a supplier is not willing to share food safety data, you may want to start searching for another supplier. Will you share with your customers?

Written procedures are required for Receiving for ingredients with a supply chain preventive control.

Specifications and COAs. Once the supplier is approved, you will set specifications for the absence of the hazard; that would be the absence of Salmonella and Listeria in the ingredient of peanut butter in our example. When the peanut butter is received, the Receiving personnel should inspect the vehicle for sanitary conditions and the containers to ensure they are intact. The bill of lading is checked against the goods received upon arrival. Every shipment of peanut butter must include a document stating the hazard is absent. With every shipment received, you get a COA, a Certificate of Conformance (COC), or letter of guarantee regardless of repeating a lot code. The ingredient container or pallets should be clearly labeled at Receiving, then moved and stored in a manner to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact.

You cannot continue to just file away COAs for ingredients where a hazard is controlled by a supplier.

Sampling and testing. FDA requires verification of COAs at some frequency determined by you. Are you still with me that this is for ingredients where the hazard is controlled by the supplier? Develop a sampling plan for each ingredient to include:

    • who is responsible for sampling and how they are qualified,
    • the location where samples are taken,
    • the methods for sampling and shipping,
    • the number and size of samples,
    • the coding of samples,
    • the exact location of the laboratory, and
    • the method of the test.

Often the customer drives the sampling plan and orders too many samples and too many tests. Please do not order tests where you do not use the data. Don’t get me started on this! As the customer, you must be confident in samples being taken and shipped properly. You must trust the results of the laboratory. Work with experts to develop your sampling plan.

On-site audit. At first glance, the requirement for an on-site audit of the supplier seems daunting. However, you do not personally have to do the audit. You may use the audit of another body for your documentation. That means you can use the audit report from a state inspector, federal inspector, broker, consultant, or auditing firm. There is a requirement for a qualified auditor, not a certified auditor. You are required to prove to an inspector how an auditor was qualified to inspect your supplier. After the initial inspection, an annual audit is required, unless there is justification for a less frequent audit that is based on evidence. Work with a qualified auditor to put together your auditing plan. After you have agreed upon the scope of the audit and how the audit will address the hazard, you must obtain all corrective action and implementation documents to address problems.

Your job is to collect evidence to prove your case for safety. Confidence will climb for your case before an FDA inspector, when you have an approved supplier, documentation of receipt of the ingredient, verification of COAs for the hazard, and results of on-site audits.

If you want to read the requirements for supplier verification, find Subpart G in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. However, I recommend starting with the FDA At-a-glance document which provides a neat summary of the rule. Still not sure if you are meeting the requirements for supplier verification? 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

I heard that inspections are looking more like audits than the historical walk-through and observation of employees working. Why is that? Documentation is required by law and tells the story of food safety. The success of your company inspection lies in your records. Today I am writing some good, general concepts and requirements on records management under the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Preventive Controls for Human Food rule.

What is the purpose of records management?
This is the way I look at it: your company (and most of the food manufacturers in the United States) are making and selling a safe product. The bad ones who intentionally sell harmful products go to jail – these are rare. Then there are the companies who think they are doing the right thing, and they simply do not know their product is potentially harmful. For example, there is the national recall of Romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Something is wrong with the Romaine system, and hopefully the problem will be found and fixed.

For everyone else, you are making a safe product. You are the expert for your ingredients, personnel, equipment, and customer base. However, when the inspector shows up at your door, what records do you have as proof that you are making a safe product? You have a written food safety plan, written procedures, and supporting documentation. Through good record management, you can show the inspector records from receiving to shipping. Have you ever sat on a jury panel? Like the lawyer presenting evidence for the case, your company compiles evidence of food safety and, in turn, presents that evidence to an inspector.

What counts as a record?
Any and every written document can build your case. Records can be handwritten, hard copy documents, or you can create them with an electronic record. A true copy of the record is made with a photocopy or scan of the original in case of an accident that destroys the bench sheet. In addition, handwritten records must be recorded in permanent ink, preferably blue or black, and at the time of the observation be neat enough to read and provide enough detail to prove safety.

What information is required on the record?
Information must be complete to document the safety of the product. As you think through the possibility of a product recall, what information would you need and what information does the FDA and state recall coordinator need? Every document created at your company must include the name and location of the company. Location is critical if there is more than one facility, such that the document shows where the record was made and reflects the safety of the product made at that location. On the record sheet, include the name of the record, date of record, initials of employee recording data, and signature or initials of the company’s Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) for record review, along with the date of the record review. Note the time the observation was recorded too, if time is important. Record the name of the product and lot code for the batch. Again, think through what information you would need in the event of a recall.

Complete information discussed above is required in electronic records just like in a bench sheet. The same is true for a temperature chart or any record automatically generated. Don’t forget record review as a verification step by a PCQI.

What do I do with all these records?
It is completely up to you to choose paper or electronic records – or a combination of both! By law, you must store records related to food safety for two years. However, the food safety plan must be reviewed within three years, and if records are related to the food safety plan, those records may need to be stored longer. The easy part is electronic records – no matter where the data are stored electronically, if the record can be viewed on site, the record is considered stored on site. The hard part is paper records – if your company runs out of room to store boxes of records, they can be stored off site, provided that upon request of an inspector, the records can be retrieved within 24 hours. There are companies that provide off-site storage and retrieval as a service.

Going beyond the discussion of generalities, there are required records for hazard analysis; preventive controls and their monitoring, verification, and corrective action; validation; recall plan; training records and records in support of Good Manufacturing Practices. The folks at ConnectFood will design Record Management with you and 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