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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