Canada Proposes Single Food Safety Inspection Model

In May 2012, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published a report called The Improved Food Inspection Model: The Case for Change which outlined the agency's current approach to food inspection, the context for a new food inspection approach, and the proposed components of an improved food inspection model.

The report explains that when CFIA was first established in 1997, it brought together food inspection programs from different federal departments with diverse inspection approaches. As a result, CFIA currently administers eight, separate food inspection programs including:

  • dairy
  • egg
  • fish and seafood
  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • imported and manufactured food
  • maple
  • meat
  • processed products (including honey)

Without a standardized food safety inspection model, CFIA has struggled to provide consistent oversight of all regulated food. According to the CFIA report:

Having eight food programs has resulted in the development and use of different risk management frameworks, inspection methods, and compliance verification and enforcement approaches. This challenges the CFIA to manage risks consistently across different types of establishments and different foods. It creates situations in which foods of similar risks may be inspected at different frequencies or in different ways. The eight food programs also result in industry having to meet multiple and different requirements that are challenging to address.

The challenge of maintaining eight different inspection programs coupled with changing methods of global food production, processing and distribution has necessitated the development of an improved and standardized food inspection model.

Earlier this month, CFIA drafted a proposal for a single food inspection model based on risk and prevention of non-compliance that would replace the eight food inspection programs the agency currently operates. The new model has five key components:

  1. Licensing/registration – A licensing and registration requirement for regulated parties that import or export food or that manufacture or process food for trade between provinces;
  2. CFIA oversight – Varying levels of CFIA oversight that would be based on the level of risk;
  3. Inspection – A systems approach to inspection that would assess the preventative control plans and procedures of regulated parties to ensure that food is prepared safely and complies with regulations;
  4. Compliance and enforcement – One common compliance and enforcement strategy for food; and
  5. System performance – Mechanisms to evaluate the CFIA’s inspection program for consistency, effectiveness and performance.

CFIA is hopeful that an updated food inspection system will benefit the food industry in a number of ways. For instance:

Inspection modernization will improve market access and give Canadian companies the flexibility to design controls that demonstrate their operations and products comply with all relevant federal standards. It will also create a more level playing field for businesses by streamlining the inspection process into a single system and eliminating the need for businesses to address multiple requirements.

In addition, the new model is also intended to increase transparency thus providing consumers with greater confidence in the safety and wholesomeness of their food.

The CFIA is seeking comments from the public including consumers and industry stakeholders until October 31, 2012 on the proposed draft model and intends to organize extensive outreach activities with CFIA inspectors, consumer associations, industry, and federal, provincial and territorial government counterparts in the fall. 

FSIS' New Rule on Poultry Inspection Remains Open for Comment

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a press release indicating that the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was proposing a new rule to modernize young chicken and turkey slaughter inspection.

Specifically, the rule intends to expand the use of the flexible, more efficient, fully integrated meat and poultry inspection system originally developed by FSIS in the late 1990s known as the HACCP Based Inspection Models Project, or HIMP. According to Alfred Almanza, Administrator of USDA’s FSIS, there have been 20 broiler plants under a HIMP pilot program since 1999. He explained that this 13-year-old study was undertaken to determine how best to modernize poultry inspection on a large scale. By expanding HIMP, FSIS aims to focus its inspection resources on the areas of the poultry production system that pose the greatest risk to food safety: the unseen threat of Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Some of the key elements of that new system include:

(1) Requiring establishment personnel to conduct carcass sorting activities before FSIS conducts online carcass inspection so that only carcasses that the establishment deems likely to pass inspection are presented to the carcass inspector; (2) reducing the number of online FSIS carcass inspectors to one per line; and (3) permitting faster line speeds than are permitted under the current inspection systems it replaces.

In the USDA’s January news release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack supported implementation of the new rule by stating that “[t]he modernization plan will protect public health, improve the efficiency of poultry inspections in the U.S., and reduce spending.” He added, “The new inspection system will reduce the risk of foodborne illness by focusing FSIS inspection activities on those tasks that advance our core mission of food safety. By revising current procedures and removing outdated regulatory requirements that do not help combat foodborne illness, the result will be a more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars.” Significantly, FSIS representatives pointed out that the new rule would prevent 5,200 foodborne illnesses annually, would save taxpayers approximately $90 million over three years, and save the poultry industry more than $250 million annually.

Yet, despite noting the positive impact that the proposed expansion of the HIMP poultry inspection system would have on both food safety and taxpayers’ wallets, the USDA received a great deal of criticism from consumers, food safety advocacy groups, the media, and FSIS inspectors themselves.

In particular, critics argued that the HIMP model relinquishes most of the physical poultry inspection duties to the companies that produce the birds for ultimate retail sale. Company employees, rather than FSIS inspectors, will be tasked with sorting defective chickens and examining other quality assurance issues. Inspectors will be responsible for reviewing each bird for fecal contamination. Inevitably, the reduced role of the FSIS inspector will eventually result in the elimination of between 800 and 1,000 FSIS inspectors jobs.

In addition, many are concerned that, under the new rule, poultry plants will be allowed to speed up their lines from an inspection rate of 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. Some inspectors urge that raising the line speed would result in an increased number of unsafe and unwholesome poultry products winding up on the consumer’s dinner table.

However, both Almanza and Undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA Elisabeth Hagen maintain that the proposed rule is a step in the right direction for protecting public health. In response to the argument that the new rules places too much inspection authority in the hands of the poultry company, Almanza explained:  

Right now, we focus on visual inspections of birds, carcass by carcass, and we look for bumps and blemishes. Do these blemishes put Americans’ health at risk? No. But the unseen threats, salmonella and campylobacter, do. Today, we inspect poultry much the same way as we have since the Eisenhower administration, evaluating the quality of each carcass and doing industry's quality assurance work for them. Once upon a time, there was a good explanation for this: when FSIS first started inspecting poultry, quality assurance was thought to be the best way of keeping the public safe and holding industry accountable. But now that our scientific knowledge has advanced and helped us better identify true food safety threats, we cannot do the same thing we’ve been doing since the 1950s.

Further, Almanza said that the HIMP facilities have been permitted to use a line speed of 175 birds per minute since 1999. “In other words, we have more than a decade of experience slaughter running at 175 bpm, the proposed maximum line speed in the rule,” he added.

Hagen underscored that, even with those increased line speeds, when it comes to contamination, the HIMP pilot plants have performed far better than non-HIMP plants. Data collected from the HIMP plants over the last several years support FSIS’ proposition to expand the HIMP program to additional poultry slaughter facilities. 

Due to the negative response to the proposed rule, though, Undersecretary Hagen announced that the rule will remain open for public comment until April 26, 2012. Comments may be submitted electronically by visiting http://www.regulations.gov or by mailing them to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS, Docket Clerk, Patriots Plaza 3, 355 E. Street SW., 8-163A, Mailstop 3782, Washington, DC 20250-3700.

American Cheese Society Conference

I attended the American Cheese Society conference in Montreal earlier in the month. The conference was attended by cheese producers and suppliers from around the world. At the conference I presented a PowerPoint on Food Safety Modernization Act  (FSMA) .  There were several talks on Food Safety and clearly, the industry is concerned about the new provisions where cheese in particular has been identified as one of the high-risk foods that will be subject to some of the more stringent new regulations.

Because of the conferences’ location, FSMA’s features related to import and export certifications and foreign inspections were of particular interest (see below). It is clear that imported food will garner additional attention under FSMA. This is particularly true given accounts of food safety issues in China involving vinegar, meat and bread

 

FSMA IMPORT REQUIREMENTS

 

1.   The FDA has a stepped up their foreign facility inspection program to be carried out in a manner to be negotiated with the relevant foreign authority. If inspections are not allowed within 24 hours of the request, a ban on the importation from that facility is authorized.

 

2.  FSMA contains a new section (sec. 808) that requires the FDA to create a system for the accreditation of third party auditors for certification of eligible foreign facilities. The certification in turn will be used for the Foreign Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (see below) to provide assurance for food imports and to target foreign inspection resources. There are express requirements for auditors and certifications set out in this statute.

 

3.  The Foreign Supplier Verification Program (sec. 805) requires every United States importer to perform risk-based reviews of foreign suppliers to verify that the food they import is produced in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards (produce and hazard analysis and preventive controls) and is not altered or misbranded. In January 2012, the FDA is required to issue regulations specifying the contents of the specific verification programs. Each importer is required to perform foreign supply verification activities which may include monitoring records, inspections or annual on site inspections. It may also require reviewing the hazard prevention programs for foreign suppliers, periodic sampling and testing of shipments. 

 

4.  The law has clarified the definition of inspection to include: An “importer,” for this program, is defined as the United States owner or consignee of the article of food at the time of entry of such articles into the United States, or, if there is no United States owner or consignee, the importer is defined as the United States agent or representative of a foreign owner or consignee of the article of food at the time of entry into the United States. (Note that FDA seafood and juice facilities subject to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) or low-acid canned food requirements are exempt.)

 

5.  In January 2012, the FDA is required to issue a guidance document to assist importers in developing their foreign verification program.

 

6.  Each importer is required to maintain records related to the Foreign Supplier Verification program for at least two years.

 

7.  The FDA is required to maintain on its website a current list of the names, locations and other information deemed necessary by the importers in compliance with Section 2805 exemptions. 

 

8.  There is also a Foreign Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (FVQIP) (sec. 806) which requires the FDA to establish in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security a “voluntary” program to expedite movement of materials through the process. Under this program, an “importer” is defined as the person that brings food, or causes the food to be brought from a foreign country into the United States.  This is an important distinction from the definition under FSVP because it could mean that foreign manufacturers may be allowed to participate in this program.  The deciding factors will not be known until the final regulations are issued. FVQIP regulations are not required to be finalized by the U.S. FDA until July 2013. In July 2012, the FDA is required to issue a guidance document regarding participation, revocation, reinstatement compliance of the qualified importer program. To be eligible the importer must be importing food from its facility that has been certified by a third party auditor that year.

 

9.  The FDA is authorized to require as a condition to granting admission to an article of food imported or offered for export to certification or such other assurances FDA deems appropriate.

 

In short, the following is the relevant time table:

January 2011 Authority to require import certification.
July 2011 Require importers to notify the FDAof any country tot which food was denied access.
January 2012 FDA to publish guidance AND regulations for the Foreign Supplier Verification Program.
July 2012 Establish program for Voluntary Qualified Importer Program.
January 2013 Effective date for Foreign Supplier Verification Program.

 

 

 

FDA's Right To Photograph In Your Plant

The FDA asserts in its inspection manual its right to photograph in your plant. Yet the FDA does not have statutory authority to photograph. The manual cites the following cases as authority for its right to photograph the inside of a plant: Dow Chem. Co. v. United States, 476 U.S. 227 (1986), and United States v. Acri Wholesale Grocery Co., 409 F. Supp. 529 (S.D. Iowa 1976). But these cases rely on the theory of implied consent or a minimal expectation of privacy. These cases do not hold that FDA has the right to photograph the interior of a food facility when the facility has a strict policy against photography and does not consent to the photography.

So, should you resist FDA's request to photograph?

The first thing you need to do is to ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. Do you have a policy against photography in your plant?
  2. If you do, is the policy strictly enforced?

If the answer to either question is no, then you're on shaky footing in resisting the FDA's request. By not having a policy or by not strictly enforcing the policy, FDA's legal authority based on implied consent is that much stronger.

Assuming your plant does have a no-photography policy that is strictly enforced, you need to assess whether the photography is worth the fight. It may be. Resisting the request for photos may be worthwhile to protect potential disclosure of trade secrets and to prevent out-of-context photographs from being used adversely by FDA. The problem is that the harder you push against FDA, the more likely that it will seek more information and the more likely that it will seek enforcement action.

In a future entry, we'll explore what legal remedies might be available to prevent the FDA from photographing the inside of  your plant.

Learn How to Prepare for an FDA Inspection

Next Wednesday at the ACI Food Regulatory Summit in Chicago I'll be presenting a talk entitled "Curtailing Downstream Liability Arising Out of On-Site Inspections: How to Prepare and What to Do Should Government Come Knocking." My slide-deck can be linked here.

Topics that I plan to cover include:

  • FDA's plan to increase frequency of inspections and how it plans to do it
  • How to be prepared for FDA's greatly expanded records access authority
  • How to avoid new fees that will be imposed by FDA
  • Developing an appropriate strategy to deal with FDA
  • Preparing a privileged FDA inspection plan and training

More information about the ACI conference and registration can be found here.

Michigan Company Announces Frozen Pasta Recall

A Michigan maker of frozen pasta products has issued a recall for products that were distributed to seven states. Canton, Mich.-based Mucci Food Products is recalling an undetermined amount of frozen meat and poultry pasta products because the food was prepared without federal inspection.

The products were produced from May 1, 2008 to April 24, 2009 and distributed to California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. The recalled products bear the establishment number “19177” or “P-19177” inside the USDA mark of inspection and the dates “1218” to “1149” located at the bottom of the product box.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has complete details of the products subject to the recall, including images of the product labels. The USDA has not received any reports of illness as a result of consumption of the products.

Georgia House Unanimously Passes Food Safety Bill; Kellogg CEO Calls for Food Safety Reforms

Update to today’s earlier post: the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill today that would strengthen food safety laws in Georgia. The Georgia House and Senate now will resolve minor differences in the proposed legislation and send a final version to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature.

Also today, the AP reports that the chief executive of Kellogg Co. is urging food safety reforms, including written safety plans for all food companies and annual inspections of facilities that make “high-risk foods.” The AP article notes Kellogg lost $70 million worth of peanut products in the recent salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America.