FDA Extends Food Facility Registration Deadline Until January 31

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the deadline for food facilities to submit their registration until January 31, 2013.

Under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption in the United States are required to renew their facility registration by December 31, 2012, and every two years after that. FSMA directed that the food facility registration portal would be available starting on October 1, 2012.

However, FDA experienced a delay in implementing the biennial registration renewal for the 2012 cycle. As a result, the registration renewal portal did not become available until October 22, 2012. Food industry members requested that FDA extend the time to register in order to allow companies a full three-month window to complete the renewal requirement. In a new guidance document issued on December 12, 2012, FDA noted that it would exercise its enforcement discretion with respect to registration renewals submitted to FDA after December 31, 2012 for a period of 31 days, until January 31, 2013. 

Failure to register a facility, renew the facility registration, or update required registration information can have serious consequences. For instance, the U.S. can bring a civil or criminal action in federal court against a company that handles food without a proper facility registration. In addition, if food being imported or offered for import into the U.S. is from a foreign facility for which registration has not been submitted, the food could be held at the port of entry and may not be delivered to the importer, owner, or consignee of the food until the foreign facility is registered with FDA.

Along with the month-long extension, the FDA released an updated question-and-answer on facility registrations, and a shorter, simplified compliance guidance document for small businesses.

Food Safety Legislation Proposed by House - User Fees and Traceability Are Among Highlights

Last week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce released a discussion draft of the “Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.”
 

The draft proposes beefing up the FDA registry of “all food facilities serving American consumers” and charging every facility $1,000 per year to fund FDA food safety activities. The new legislation would expand the types of facilities that need to register by eliminating certain exemptions from the 2002 Bioterrorism Act, though for now it appears to maintain exemptions for retailers, restaurants, farmers and nonprofits.
 

The proposal’s most ambitious and controversial proposal may be traceability.

The draft legislation proposes to require FDA to “by regulation establish a tracing system for food that is located in the United States or is for import into the United States.” The legislation gives the FDA few specifics other than to “maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of food,” “link that history with subsequent history,” “establish and maintain a system for tracing food that is interoperable with the systems established and maintained by other such persons” and “use a unique identifier for each facility.” No doubt the devil will be in the details.

Verbatim, here is the Summary of Discussion Draft of The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009:

1. Creates an up-to-date registry of all food facilities serving American consumers: Requires all facilities operating within the U.S. or importing food to the U.S. to register with the FDA annually.

2. Generates resources to support FDA oversight of food safety: Requires registered facilities to pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 in order to generate revenue for food safety activities at the FDA; requires registered facilities to pay for FDA’s costs associated with reinspections and food recalls; allows FDA to charge a fee to domestic firms requesting export certificates for exported food.

3. Prevents food safety problems before they occur: Requires all facilities operating within the U.S. or importing food to the U.S. to implement safety plans that identify and protect against food hazards. FDA would have the authority to specify minimum food safety plan requirements and to audit food safety plans.

4. Requires safety plans for fresh produce: Directs FDA to issue regulations for ensuring the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables.

5. Increases inspections of food facilities: Sets a minimum inspection frequency for all registered facilities. High-risk facilities would be inspected at least once every six to 18 months; low risk facilities would be inspected at least once every 18 months to three years; and warehouses that store food would be inspected at least once every three to four years. Refusing, impeding, or delaying an inspection is prohibited.

6. Improves traceability of food: Enhances FDA’s ability to trace the origin of tainted food in the event of an outbreak of foodborne illness. FDA would be required to issue regulations that require food producers, manufacturers, processors, transporters, or holders to maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of the food and to link that history with the subsequent distribution history of the food; and to establish an interoperable record to ensure fast and efficient traceback (current law permits facilities to hold a record in any format — paper or electronic — making efficient tracing of foods difficult for FDA). Prior to issuing such regulations, FDA would be required to conduct a feasibility study, public meetings, and a pilot project.

7. Enhances the safety of imported food: As an additional layer of protection, FDA can require food to be certified as meeting all U.S. food safety requirements by the government of the country from which the article originated or by certain qualified third parties. Third party certifying entities must meet strict requirements to protect against conflicts of interest with the firm seeking certification.

8. Expands laboratory testing capacity: Requires FDA to establish a program to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies and to accept test results only from duly accredited laboratories. Gives FDA the ability to require laboratories to send test results to FDA.

9. Provides strong, flexible enforcement tools: Provides FDA new authority to issue mandatory recalls of tainted foods. Strengthens criminal penalties and establishes civil monetary penalties that FDA may impose on food facilities that fail to comply with safety requirements.

10. Creates fast-track import process for food meeting security standards: Permits FDA to develop voluntary security guidelines for imported foods. Importers meeting the guidelines would receive expedited processing.

11. Enhances the safety of infant formula: Enhances FDA’s ability to assure the safety of new infant formulas before they go on the market.

12. Advances the science of food safety: Directs the Secretary to include food in an active surveillance system to assess more accurately the frequency and sources of human illness. The Secretary is also directed to identify industry and regulatory approaches to minimize hazards in the food supply.

13. Enhances FDA’s ability to block unsafe food from entering the food supply: Strengthens FDA’s authority to administratively detain unsafe food products. Grants FDA “quarantine” authority under which the agency may restrict or prohibit the movement of unsafe food products from a particular geographic area.

14. Directs FDA to assess the use of carbon monoxide in certain foods: Requires FDA to conduct a safety review of the use of carbon monoxide in meat, poultry, and seafood products.

15. Enhances transparency of GRAS program: Requires posting on FDA’s website of documentation submitted to FDA in support of a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) notification.

16. Requires country-of-origin labeling and disclosure: Requires all processed food labels to indicate the country in which final processing occurred. Requires food manufacturers to identify the country of origin for all ingredients on their websites. Requires country-of-origin labeling for all produce.

General Provisions

1. Creates an up-to-date registry of importers: Requires all importers of drugs, devices, and foods to register with the FDA annually and to pay a registration fee.

2. Requires unique identification numbers for facilities and importers: To enhance information about FDA-regulated entities, creates unique identification numbers for all drug, device, and food facilities and importers.

3. Creates a dedicated foreign inspectorate: Requires FDA to establish and maintain a corps of inspectors to monitor foreign facilities producing food, drugs, devices, and cosmetics for American consumers.

4. Grants FDA new authority to subpoena records related to possible violations.

5. Provides protection for whistleblowers that bring attention to important safety information: Prohibits entities regulated by the FDA from discriminating against an employee in retaliation for assisting in any investigation regarding any conduct which the employee reasonably believes constitutes a violation of federal law.

Lessons from Toxic Rice and Chinese Dairies - Threats From Bioterrorism and Supplier Fraud

Manufacturer fraud and bioterrorism should be on the radar screen for any food producer. Apart from the meltdown in the U.S. financial markets and presidential politics, the big news this week is toxic rice from Southeast Asia and melamine-tainted dairy products from China. Both crises were caused by intentional contamination of food products by raw-materials suppliers with the apparent motivation to defraud food manufacturers and sellers.

Both (especially melamine-tainted dairy products) are causing a worldwide health scare and crisis in consumer confidence. Consumers outside of China may not be at serious risk, because the melamine-tainted dairy products are not sold as pure dairy products. Outside of China, Chinese dairy products are used only in small quantities as ingredients in products such as candy and coffee. U.S. and European Union consumers are at risk only when consuming unusually large quantities of these “nondairy” products.

Yet the consumer crisis inside and outside of China could have ameliorated dramatically but for failures in crisis management. Even the presumably government-controlled Chinese press understands this: “Crisis management is closely related to the brand and credibility of an enterprise, but many Chinese enterprises have not developed the capability to react properly when a crisis emerges . . . .”

Consistent with Western principles of crisis management, Chinese experts, according to the Chinese press, opine that “one principle of crisis management is to take a responsible attitude immediately and in a sincere manner, which is of great help for enterprises to rebuild their credibility.”

The press in China points to a company named Sanlu and concludes that “Sanlu, the center of the scandal, provided a bad example of crisis management. When it was first exposed, Sanlu refused to take the blame and passed the buck to innocent dairy farmers, which ignited great anger nationwide. . . . Sanlu didn’t openly admit its products were toxic until Sept. 11. It eventually recalled baby formula manufactured on and before Aug. 6. The scandal led to the fall of chairwoman Tian and the disappearance of all dairy products bearing the brand of Sanlu.”