The painfully slow rollout of regulations implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has many producers tied in knots. But story after story in the news points in the direction that it is better to get started with preventive risk management food safety tactics than to wait for the FDA to publish rules. The message is simple:
Implement Your Food Safety Plan Now!
Producers need to get this point: The FDA does not need to wait for rules to be in place before using the authority it has under FSMA.
One of the most threatening things for a food producer today is to have its registration under FSMA suspended. That means no economic activity generating revenue, despite continuing costs. This happened recently to peanut processor Sunland Inc. as summarized in many publications including the Leavitt blog. As David Acheson of Leavitt notes:
FDA’s first use of its new authority in the forced suspension of operations … is bringing to fruition the words that have been repeated for the last two years: Be prepared, and Don’t Wait. And now, despite the number of pending, unissued rules … the time has come. FDA is enforcing this impactful part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Acheson goes on to describe a number of food safety lapses at Sunland that might have been prevented with a serious food safety plan. Not knowing final FSMA rules is no excuse for inaction.
Sins Will Not Be Forgiven
Not in this world, at any rate. The food safety lawfirm of Marler Clark publishes the popular blog Food Safety News which contains two stories about the follow up to Sunland’s melt down.
In the first article we cite, Food Safety News tells the stories of victims of the salmonella outbreak triggered by Sunland peanut butter and also by earlier massive outbreaks from the mid-2000s that included big brands like Peter Pan. This article links peanut butter and salmonella (not very appealing) and tells how devastated victims were. This is a predictable media response, and it shows that there is a strong collective memory at work. Past outbreaks will not be forgotten.
In the second article, Sunland is reported to have asked the FDA to at least allow the shelling of peanuts stored in its warehouses. The company has received support from local politicians, but it is unclear whether the FDA will be sympathetic to the claim that peanut shelling is different than peanut processing. Sunland looks to be squirming on the hook in this effort to salvage part of its business – and just what do they plan to do with those shelled peanuts, anyway?
Fiscal Cliff or Not, Plan Implementation is Cheaper
A number of recent posts – like this video – have lamented that the ‘fiscal cliff’ may further postpone the promulgation of regulations because the FDA is starved for cash (see this Food Safety Tech article for more detail on this – requires registration). And people are worried about that – it’s a story that will surface again. In our view, that’s all the more reason to get going now on your food safety planning and implementation.
Apparently Sunland is getting the message. In the article about peanut shelling, Food Safety News reports that The nation’s largest organic peanut processor plans to clean and re-build areas of its plant and re-open sometime early in 2013 if FDA gives it the green light.
Why put yourself in the position of needing permission from the FDA to operate?