On the website for the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance, one section stands out in particular: Its “Upcoming Events” section is practically empty, with no training sessions or meetings listed. That’s because FSPCA—the public-private group planning a nationwide core curriculum, along with training and outreach programs for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)—has nothing to use for training.
More than six months after the January deadline for a foreign supplier verification program and a safety rule for high-risk produce, and weeks after the preventive controls mandate was supposed to take effect, the FSMA still languishes at the White House Office of Management and Budget. This repeat of the delays that went on during the effort to originally pass the law has left all stakeholders frustrated.
“We’re kind of stalled in developing anything new in terms of education and training around these regulations, because although we have some ideas based on the legislation itself as to what will be in them, it’s hard to move on anything without knowing the full details of the rules,” said Ben Chapman, PhD, the FSPCA’s vice chair and an assistant professor of food safety at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
There has been some debate over whether the preventive controls requirements will be enforced in advance of an actual rule. FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor, in June letters to industry groups, said no: “FDA is committed to full and timely implementation of FSMA and will be issuing proposed rules to implement sections 103 and 301. Those rules, when final, will contain provisions that clarify industry’s responsibilities and will foster compliance with FSMA’s new requirements in an orderly and effective manner. FDA will expect to enforce compliance with these new FSMA requirements in timeframes that will be described in the final rules.”
But the law itself stipulates that the requirements become effective 18 months after FSMA’s passage whether or not a rule is finalized. From a business standpoint, said Dr. Chapman, industry stakeholders are in a holding pattern. “They’re not sure how their processes are going to change.”
That doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening in preparation for implementing the rules. Dr. Chapman said that FSPCA has been busy establishing infrastructure to prepare for when the rules hit. “We don’t want to spend three years getting people up to speed,” he said. “We’re doing our best to figure out where we need to take businesses that may not have the technical expertise to deal with the rules on their own and how we can train them to be compliant and reduce risk.”