Top Food Safety and Regulatory Concerns for 2017

The new administration, round two of FSMA, even social media will impact the food and beverage industry in 2017.

By David Acheson of The Acheson Group

In follow-up to last month's Food Safety column, The Acheson Group takes a look at the new year and what we expect for the industry in 2017. Like 2016, we expect there to be a heavy focus on FSMA roll-out and compliance, but we also anticipate some impacts of the new presidential administration.

Our top 10 concerns for 2017

  1. Trump's New Administration: What will the new administration do with the FDA budget and how will that impact its FSMA enforcement resources? It will also be interesting to see if any change is made in the overall direction and function required of FDA – particularly as there is now a food industry representative in the upper echelons, with the appointment of Hardee's/Carl's Jr. CEO Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary. We don’t expect any dramatic and sudden changes with either FDA or FSIS, but over time there may be a change in enforcement strategy.
  2. FDA Inspections: We can expect to see FDA inspectors facing a continued learning curve as they begin inspections of FDA regulated facilities against the new FSMA regulations. That said, we would expect the number of large facilities inspected to increase over the course of the year. So, while all food facilities should be prepared for an unannounced FDA visit, large companies should be particularly prepared with their food safety plans in place and know that FDA could stop by at any time. So be ready to answer that question from FDA: “Show me your food safety plan.”
  3. Focus on Environmental Controls and Increased Recalls: With FDA inspectors inspecting facilities to FSMA rules and conducting environmental sampling/swabbing and use of PulseNet, they are likely to discover issues that will bring food safety into question. This could be due to any number of reasons, such as incomplete records, questionable environmental monitoring programs, failure to administer proper preventive controls, inadequate training, failure to follow GMPs, etc. As these issues are uncovered, FDA may request specific time frames for manufactured food to be recalled out of an abundance of caution. With the pressure of FSMA and compliance, it is also likely that voluntary recalls will increase, with companies pushing hard to be better educated on risks within their facilities and more. Facilities that are diligent and proactive will be able to detect and correct issues – before a third-party auditor or surprise FDA inspection finds (and cites) them. A key message for 2017 is to make sure you have done the best you can with your environmental control program, especially if you make ready-to-eat foods.
  4. Second Round of Compliance: With the next round of extended compliance dates now coming due, small companies and pet food manufacturers will have to be FSMA-compliant in 2017. These two sectors will be ramping up their food safety plans just as the large companies did in 2016, so we can expect to see a mirror effect as they implement their food safety plans.
  5. Dedicated PCQI Positions: As companies develop and implement their food safety plans, they are becoming very aware of the numerous duties and responsibilities of the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual. With these added responsibilities potentially requiring full-time or contract personnel, depending on the size of the food company and/or complexity of the manufacture of the food product, companies will need to be taking this into consideration and potentially making additional hires or reassessing existing roles.
  6. More Pressure on Suppliers: Food manufacturers and processors depend on suppliers to provide safe ingredients both to ensure the end safety of their products and to fulfill FSMA rules. Thus, suppliers will be scrutinized for complete, thorough and accurate information, followed by increased verification by the food companies. Third-party verification will increase, and the qualifications of the third party will be further scrutinized.
  7. A Continued Request for Clarification: As more food industries become compliant with FSMA, the number of questions submitted to the FSMA Technical Assistance Network (TAN) will continue. Industry trade groups will continue to solicit information and clarification from FDA on specific interpretations of FSMA and how it applies to their niche, and will look for continued guidance updates.
  8. GMO Foods: Beyond FSMA, we can expect to see a continued focus on the regulation/labeling of GMO foods. Although USDA has two years to develop the program, consumers are unlikely to let the matter drop completely, particularly as the drive for natural and "free-from" foods grows and consumers make their voices are heard.
  9. Social Media: We fully expect social media will continue to play a role in numerous ways – and likely in an area that hasn't yet been addressed, though we'd need a crystal ball to be able to say just what that might be. But as more and more people become actively engage in social media, the spread of information -- and misinformation -- will only increase in volume and speed, so food companies will need to be prepared to react properly and efficiently and continue to develop ways to figure out what social media is saying about your brand before it becomes a crisis.
  10. Changing World Views: As 2016 came to an end and the Trump Administration began putting forward its plans, a push and pull of globalization vs. economic nationalism began to show its face. And this is just one of the ways in which the world seems to be unsettled in ways that we've not seen before. It is much bigger than food, but is highly likely to impact the food industry in some way – or many.

Overall we expect 2017 to be as action packed as 2016, With FSMA, recalls, changing administrative priorities and social media, we should anticipate that the world of the food safety professional will become ever more complex. C suites are already getting engaged in food safety, and this trend will continue into 2017 as even more food companies come to realize that food safety is likely their biggest risk enterprise-wide.

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