FSMA guidelines for US dairy sector remain hazy with uncertainty spreading throughout food industry

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Some dairy companies and companies using dairy products are still waiting for FDFA guidance on how to interpret some aspects of the regulations related in the form of “guidance documents” that the FDA usually provides after publishing the regulations. These documents are expected “soon.” ©iStock/endopack
Some dairy companies and companies using dairy products are still waiting for FDFA guidance on how to interpret some aspects of the regulations related in the form of “guidance documents” that the FDA usually provides after publishing the regulations. These documents are expected “soon.” ©iStock/endopack

Related tags: Food safety, Food

The first round of compliance dates for the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) passed in late September, but there is still some questioning from the US food industry on how to comply with FSMA, a report by PMMI found, especially among dairy companies who are still waiting for final FDA guidance on how to meet the new set of regulations.

FSMA, a legislative mandate requiring comprehensive, prevention-based controls across the US food supply industry, was originally signed into law in 2011 as a response to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The act is aiming to shift the focus from reaction to prevention of food contamination by encouraging companies to implement product testing programs.

How dairy companies are coping with lack of guidance

Under FSMA, the FDA expects that facilities producing food products frequently linked to foodborne illness or pathogen contamination conduct product testing programs more often than facilities who do not produce such foods.

This rule largely leans towards the dairy industry which has seen its share of high profile contamination issues such as Listeria found in ice cream products. To complicate matters, many dairy companies are still awaiting FDA guidance documents on how to comply with FSMA, even though many deadlines will occur before the end of 2016.

Among the FSMA guidelines, is a rule that requires food production facilities to have a written food safety plan that includes a hazard analysis and preventative controls that must be reanalyzed at least once every three years.

One tool currently available to US dairy manufacturers and processors is a free online Listeria controls guide document developed by Tim Stubbs, VP of product research and food safety at Dairy Management Inc., along with the Food Safety Operating Committee.

“It’s very readable,”​ Stubbs told DairyReporter. “It’s 50 pages of text with a lot charts and checklists. The most important thing is separating raw from ready to eat.”

“Our food supply gets safer and safer, but our ability to identify the clusters have increased exponentially and the visibility has gone way up,” Stubbs ​said.

Some dairy manufacturers have been considering the checklists provided for the American Meat Institute, which are designed and geared toward the meat and dairy industry, according to PMMI’s FSMA update report presented in Chicago at Pack Expo.

When will FSMA be fully adopted?

Even though annual audits for FSMA compliance will begin and apply to all companies starting in January 2017, food industry experts interviewed for the PMMI report believe that it will take the US food industry up to 10 years to be fully transition their businesses to comply with the broad scope of FSMA regulations, in addition to providing comprehensive education and training on the new food safety standards.

“Many companies still are not getting to FSMA, they don't understand what the new regulations are going to do to them,”​ a food safety consultant told PMMI.

According to PMMI, which polled several food companies for the report, respondents cited clarifying requirements and documentation of their FSMA compliance as their two largest concerns, with 30% of respondents’ companies stating plans to use consultation to help implement the changes mandated by FSMA in order to achieve compliance.

Because of the sentiment of uncertainty many food companies are feeling about how to comply with FSMA, the FDA extended the compliance dates to May 2019 for companies who import food for use as raw materials in their products, and September 2018 for facilities producing Grade “A” milk and milk products.

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