What the Government Shutdown Means for Food Safety

As most of you know, our government went into a shutdown last Tuesday. What does that mean for the food industry? The FDA has said that they are maintaining 55% of their almost 15,000 person staff. But since food safety inspectors are considered nonessential, almost half aren’t working during this shutdown. What’s left of the staff will handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, and investigations. On the other hand, most of the meat inspectors for the USDA will continue to work, at least for the time being. But, since the FDA is responsible for about 80% of the food supply, and about a 1/5 of our food supply comes from overseas, we could have a situation on our hands if this shutdown lasts for much longer. The longer food processors go without inspections, the higher the chance of an outbreak. And, the CDC, which monitors foodborne illnesses, also has furloughed employees, only operating at 32%.

family picnic with processed foodEven these agencies’ social media accounts are feeling the hit. Considering that many people get news of recalls, food-related illnesses, and other industry news from social media, the public may become more concerned if the shutdown goes on for a while. Also, according to Food Safety News, those furloughed employees aren’t even allowed to check their work email. Here’s what some of the agencies tweeted shortly after news of the shutdown:

USDA Food Safety @USDAFoodSafety- “Due to the lapse in federal government funding this channel will not be updated until the federal government reopens.”

U.S. FDA @US_FDA- “We’re sorry, but we will not be tweeting or responding to @ replies during the government shutdown. We’ll be back as soon as possible!”

CDC @CDCgov- “We’re sorry, but we will not be tweeting or responding to @ replies during the government shutdown. We’ll be back as soon as possible!”

Even though there might not be FDA inspections happening right now, we still know that food safety is in full force. That’s because all the hard work related to food safety happens inside the food production facility. Many food processors have and will continue to be their own food safety inspectors. And these companies will be ready for inspections when they resume, as they were before the shutdown happened. It’s these companies that prove that food safety goes beyond the regulations and inspections. Because, isn’t it the right thing to, not just for us, but for our children’s safety? It’s definitely something to think about.

The Birth of Food Safety, the FDA and CGMPs

Remco Products Inc.

Lately, we’ve been talking about Current food Good Manufacturing Practices—CGMPs for short—because they are the set of regulations that apply to just about every food processor not regulated by the USDA. CGMPs have also been getting quite a bit of press lately since we may see an update as a result of FSMA. We released an earlier blog article and a white paper on the topic for those who want to learn more.

But did you know that many of the regulations that guide the production of today’s food were largely spawned by the works of investigative journalists? These journalists were referred to as “muckrakers,” and they exposed government and business corruption.

food safety and 1900s meatpackingOne of the most well-known of these journalists was Upton Sinclair, who spent seven weeks working undercover in the Chicago meatpacking district on a research mission to expose the injustices and hazardous working conditions faced by meat industry workers. In Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, his vivid descriptions of the unsanitary practices of the meatpacking industry captured the attention of the American public and President Theodore Roosevelt.

After reading The Jungle, Roosevelt sent a pair of advisors to assess the truthfulness of the novel’s depictions—and their report swayed the President to believe that Sinclair had provided an accurate representation. Shortly after Sinclair’s works became widespread, the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed in 1906. The passage of these regulations marked a turning point in federal food safety and was the beginning of what we know today as the FDA.

Although Sinclair had hoped that his accounts would improve working conditions for America’s poor laborers, he ended up making a huge and lasting impact on food safety. He was later quoted as saying, “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach.”

The early regulations were more specific about the standards for pharmaceuticals and accurate product labeling, and policies regarding food were much more ambiguous. Over the next 30 years, gaps in the protections provided to consumers by these regulations were exposed by a new generation of investigative journalists. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, received enthusiastically by an American public that had witnessed one too many food and drug safety disasters. This was the first law that mandated legally enforceable food standards, and CGMPs for food were officially established later on in 1969.

No one can deny that we have come a long, long way for food safety since the days written about by Upton Sinclair. But we may soon see another era of modernization of our food safety regulations. Do you think that the updates proposed by FSMA go far enough in preventing the production of unsafe foods? Are there holes in today’s laws you think should be considered? Tell us your thoughts.

Building your HACCP Plan—Part 1

Pink Leads the Charge

With the advent of the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011, many food processors are taking proactive steps to develop a HACCP Plan. As new rules related to FSMA are proposed, many processors are asking the question, “How do we develop a HACCP Plan?”

HACCP quality check in food processing facilityLet’s start with a brief review. HACCP stands for “Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point.” A HACCP Plan includes a series of procedures to control the process and sensitive points in the food chain, with the ultimate goal of producing consumer foods that are safe for consumers’ health.

Through our research on the subject and working with food processors, we’ve observed several suggested steps in developing an effective HACCP Plan. In this blog entry, we’ll cover three tips for developing a successful HACCP Plan. We’ll follow up with another blog to cover a few more helpful suggestions.

1. Understand the seven HACCP principles.

The United States Department of Agriculture provides seven principles for developing a HACCP Plan: 1) Conduct a Hazard Analysis, 2) Identify Critical Control Points (CCPs), 3) Establish Critical Limits for each Critical Control Point, 4) Establish Critical Control Point Monitoring Requirements, 5) Establish Corrective Actions, 6) Establish Record Keeping Procedures, and 7) Establish Procedures for Verifying the HACCP System is Working as Intended.

Realizing that’s a lot to digest right there, we suggest you visit the FSIS website to read in more detail about the seven principles and what’s involved with each one. Basically, your HACCP Plan will start with a Hazard Analysis of each product, then you’ll need to work through each point in the process to determine CCPs, then establish and monitor corrective actions for those CCPs. (See our previous blog article that covers more about CCPs.)

2. Use the power of the team.

In our observations, some of the best HACCP Plans are those developed by a team within a food processing organization. Who should be on your team depends on the structure of your organization, but typical titles included are:

  • HACCP Coordinator
  • Quality Assurance Manager
  • Plant Operations Manager
  • Engineering Manager
  • Maintenance Manager
  • Sanitation Manager and/or Supervisor
  • Shipping & Receiving (Warehouse) Manager and/or Supervisor
  • Line Supervisor and/or Machine Operator

In our experience, the HACCP Coordinator is usually the point person for the HACCP Plan. This person is ultimately responsible for coordinating and maintaining the HACCP Plan. If you don’t have a HACCP Coordinator within your organization, then your Quality Assurance Manager or even CEO may be the appropriate person to have that responsibility.

We appreciate learning more about how companies assign  HACCP responsibilities — what works and what doesn’t. Email us your thoughts on this issue at Sales@remcoproducts.com.

3. Identify the products that will be covered by the HACCP Plan.

Unless you’re a very small food processor, chances are your company produces more than one product. Thus, it’s important to identify every product that will be covered by your HACCP Plan. For each product, your Hazard Analysis should include the product name and description, its ingredients and processing methods, food safety factors involved with processing the product, how it is distributed, the product’s intended use and target consumer.

With these three steps covered, next, you’ll get into the heart and soul of your HACCP Plan. For your convenience, we’ll cover more steps in our next blog entry. In the meantime, you may enjoy reading an overview of HACCP planning from the University of Florida IFAS Extension, or our white paper, “HACCP Planning for Food Safety.”