FDA's Taylor says food-safety inspections to change in post-FSMA
WASHINGTON — The Food & Drug Administration is retooling inspectors to be more specialized in food and teaching them to assess a company's food-safety culture for the first time when deciding whether to return for another inspection, Mike Taylor, the FDA 's food-safety chief, said Sept. 10 at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference, here.
This was just one of several messages he brought to the breakfast meeting of the conference as he mapped out the FDA's plan for assuring compliance with the massive Food Safety Modernization Act.
While attendees had hoped Taylor would detail the new provisions of the produce safety proposal, he arrived to the meeting empty-handed as the White House has yet to complete the final review.
But Taylor laid out the "sea change" its field force is undergoing to prepare for the new food-safety law.
Bringing companies into compliance will be the new benchmark of FDA's field force, not collecting evidence for enforcement actions, Taylor pledged. The FDA is shifting away from general inspectors who are trained to check drug, food and medical device firms for a more specialized food inspector who can call technical experts at FDA for advice during plant assessments.
A company's food-safety culture will influence how often inspectors will check on a firm, whether it's the food-safety commitment of the top leaders at a company or the effort a facility takes in developing the right plans, he said.
"This focuses us on those few that aren't there, don't have a food safety culture for whatever reason and need our attention to get compliance," he said.
While the new produce safety and preventive controls are not out yet, Taylor said the industry should expect to see greater flexibility in the water quality and testing provisions and a different direction on the raw manure-compost section.
"You will see important new ideas in there," he said. "This next round will be very important."
Later, United Fresh conference packed two busloads of attendees to the FDA's College Park, MD, office to discuss a wide range of issues with regulators in charge of drafting the FSMA rules and overseeing various sampling programs.
One FDA official told the group to expect new supplier verification and product testing requirements in the supplemental FSMA rules expected as early as this month.
Expect a fix to the problem of neighboring farms being designated facilities if they pack other farms' produce.
"This is an area we considered when developing the supplemental," said Samir Assar, FDA's produce safety staff director.
Avocados, sprouts on FDA sampling list
Besides FSMA, Amy Barringer, FDA's director of field programs and guidance, briefed the group on the 2014 sampling pilot program and its new emphasis on taking a larger number of statistically significant samples of fewer commodities to check for pathogens.
This year, the FDA is in the process of taking thousands of samples of avocados, certain raw milk cheeses and sprouts, and Barringer said the agency is wrestling with a way to share data with stakeholders before releasing a final report. Cheese and sprout testing will be wrapped up in January, and avocados in June.
In response to a question of why avocados were targeted, Barringer said FDA has seen an uptick of illnesses from processed foods that may contain avocados, such as salsa, but the agency had little data.