With FDA already over the original due date for FSMA rules, extending comment periods, and being subjected to lawsuits and court mandates because of that, the government shutdown certainly has not helped to move things along. However, this does not mean that the food industry should sit back and wait for the rules to be finalized or compliance to take effect. There are numerous reasons you should be working toward compliance now – many of which are, like the rules themselves, interdependent.
Following are 10 Reasons you should be working toward FSMA compliance now:
1. Prevention vs. Reaction –
Moving the industry from reaction to prevention is the foundation of FSMA. Acting now is preventive; waiting until all the rules are in place and the deadline is pending is reactive. Further, much of what is in FSMA is good for brand protection, so paying attention to these rules today will help you develop systems that have other important impacts on your business. (See #9.)
2. The Devil is in the Details –
If you’ve taken a look at the proposed rules, you know that they are quite detailed. The longer you wait to review the rules and apply them to your business, the more you can expect to be scrambling to try to meet the compliance dates – particularly if you find that you are subject to more than one rule with interdependent clauses. (See #3.) When you rush to complete a task, you are more likely to make mistakes or miss those devilish details. Think about any project you recently undertook. Did you give yourself enough time to thoroughly review the specifications, strategize and plan, take action to implement the plan, then evaluate it to ensure that it not only fits the specifications but also is effective for your business? If you waited until the last minute to start the project, you probably did not have enough time to implement each of the steps needed for success. In the same way, if you wait until the last minute to begin working on the FSMA rules, it’s unlikely you will give yourself enough to do much more than simply take action and hope for the best.
3. Multiple Rule Compliance –
The complexity and interdependence of the FSMA provisions are a primary reason that FDA has had to take extra time to develop the rules and has extended the comment periods. In much the same way, every business will have to interpret the complex details of at least one rule; and most businesses will be subject to multiple rules and have to take into consideration the interdependence of each. For example, the Preventive Controls rule will impact most businesses in one way or another; if you grow, harvest, pack, or hold produce, you will also be subject to the Produce Safety rule; and if you use any imported ingredients or supplies, you may be impacted by the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) and the Accredited Third-Party rule – all of which are interdependent.
4. Training –
Implementing practices and standards in your operation to ensure compliance with the rules will require personnel training. If you are still in the process of developing compliant standards when the deadline looms, you will have no opportunity to educate or train your workers in your new standards.
5. ROI –
Start monitoring critical operations and save time and money by seeing that things need a correction before you have a problem on your hands. Identify corrective actions before there is an issue so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel or waste time trying to remember what you did last time. Similarly, have a recall plan so that there isn’t mass confusion on who does what when (not if) you have a recall.
6. Improve Food Safety –
Besides the direct standard-making practices of the first four reasons there is also a business case to be made for implementing improved practices that meet or exceed FSMA rules. If the proposed rules contain preventive controls or safety measures that you are not already implementing in your facility, you are likely at risk for a food safety violation and/or recall – and all the negative media attention and economic reprisals that entails. (See #7 and #8.) If you have any doubts along these lines, read our blog from last week: Are We in a New Era of Federal Prosecutions for Food Safety?
7. Brand Protection –
While business closure and complete loss of brand is an extreme result, any food safety violation (unintended or not) or recall can, and usually does, garner undesirable media attention. And today, media is not only the local paper or national TV news, it is also the homemaker blogger, the teenage tweeter, and the cause-centric consumer activist, all of whom have open access to Internet posting of information – and misinformation. The more you protect the safety of your food through regulated or unregulated preventive-based controls, the more you protect your brand.
8. Move Toward or Maintain Certification to a GFSI-benchmarked Scheme –
There are many parallels between the FSMA Preventive Controls rule and GFSI standard. Take SQF for example – Although there are elements of SQF and other GFSI-benchmarked schemes that are not as prescriptive as FSMA, there are several areas addressed by SQF that have not been addressed in the proposed rule. Thus, as the food industry looks to protect customers and their brand as well as be in compliance with the proposed new rules, our own analysis indicates that being SQF level 2 certified to today’s SQF standards is a very strong start. If you’re already certified, keep improving (#9); if you’re not, consider if implementing preventive controls warrants the pursuit of certification to a GFSI scheme.
Implementing best practices should be a basic practice for every food facility, and there are plenty of best practices written into the proposed rules that will enable a facility to improve. Implementing best practices gleaned from this review of the rules will not only move you toward compliance, it will help you continuously improve.
10. Just Do It –
Although the final rules are unlikely to be exactly the same as the proposed rules, getting started will certainly give you a leg up. And if you work toward complying with the strictest of the proposed rule, you will be closer to being ready if the final rule is even stricter. And if the final rule is less strict? Worst case, you will be over safe; certainly not a bad thing! The bar of FSMA is not that high – do you really want to be only as good as the lowest common denominator?
By David Acheson
The Acheson Group