While many questions remain about the Food Safety Modernization Act, one industry expert advised that the time to start putting plans in place is upon us.
Purnendu C. Vasavada, industry consultant and professor emeritus of food scientist at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, said the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is still evolving, with modifications and exceptions yet being put forth and debated. However, he said, “in large part, the time to start dealing with FSMA is now.”
During the recent Midwest Food Processors Association Conference, Vasavada outlined the work of the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA). The organization was put forth to develop training, and offer outreach to help food pros navigate the stormy seas of FSMA.
Vasavada said that while most food operations won’t find the safety provisions of FSMA totally alien (being familiar with the ins and outs of HACCP), there is still a significant learning curve. While food professionals are committed to safe practices, there is still some hesitation and uncertainty.
“We all want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to die today,” he said.
The main aims of FSMA are preventive provisions; inspection, compliance and response; ensuring import safety; and enhancing partnerships in the industry. Vasavada said the latter will be key going forward.
“The regulation itself won’t change the industry,” he said. “It’s going to be through partnerships with others in the industry, other processors and suppliers.”
By giving stakeholders the opportunity to lend input on crucial components of FSMA, Vasavada said, the government has indicated a willingness to be flexible in the regulation’s development. Also, he pointed out that the numerous extension of comment periods reflects that FSMA will welcome open dialogue throughout its lifespan.
The FSPCA also is helping FSMA evolve by bringing in stakeholders from all across the food industry to interface, and serve an advisory role to the government as FSMA takes shape. Committees include representatives from industry associations (such as the International Dairy Foods Association), academics (from schools like Rutgers University) and regulatory bodies (such as the FDA).
According to FSMA provisions, a “qualified individual” must prepare and enforce an operation’s safety plan. One of the most confusing points of FSMA is just what exactly it means to be that qualified individual spelled out in the legislation.
FSPCA’s work involves helping to determine what that means, and helping such individuals become qualified.
“They must have successfully completed training in development and application of risk-based preventive controls,” Vasavada said.
The organization currently is developing training programs with the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH), based at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Chicago. The outline of the process at this point envisions 2.5- to 3-day courses, followed up with computer-based learning.
Vasavada said the training will include sector-specific modules to address the needs of particular products (meat, dairy and the like). The program focuses on domestic focus for now; he reports planning is “75% complete” but will be ready to go when final rules are issued in the coming months.