Foreign Supplier Verification Programs, which aim to impose requirements on importers to perform certain risk-based actions that guarantee imported food meets the same level of public health protection as that of domestically produced food, are a big part of FSMA. The program relies on the importer’s ability to identify hazards with any of their food imports, provide documentation of verification activities, and prove that controls are in place to reduce or eliminate hazards at a critical point in the production and distribution of food products. This ties in directly with plans for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) that most regulatory or industry initiatives require, including FSMA, current Good Manufacutring Practices, Global Food Safety Initiative, Safe Quality Food, and European Union Directives, just to name a few. Providing this consistent proactive monitoring of production and logistics oversight is imperative to delivering safe food and beverages for consumers worldwide.
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Back in February, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, Michael Taylor, acknowledged these concerns to the House Commerce and Energy Committee by stating, “The determination that we have all made to improve the safety of our food supply requires two fundamental steps,” he said. “The first was to give FDA the mandate and tools to modernize the food safety system, and I applaud you for doing that via enactment of the FSMA. The second is to give FDA the capacity to carry out the numerous changes embodied in the law. It is that challenge that we must continue to address. Simply put, we cannot achieve our objective of a safer food supply without a significant increase in resources.”
The prevention of food safety issues such as product recalls is no light task. It is a feat that requires significant manpower, and manpower costs money—more money than the government is currently willing to supply. The existing funding for the food safety system is currently just a drop in the bucket. It is highly unlikely that these funds will cover the series of necessary audits that must be done nationwide. According to a survey conducted at this year’s Food Safety Summit, 55 percent of respondents believe that food auditors should be held responsible if a foodborne outbreak is traced back to an issue that wasn’t noted during an audit. This means that third-party auditors should be empowered to prevent issues. The manpower resources will be spread thin, and issues will likely fall through the cracks unless food and beverage companies look to automation and innovation to ensure food quality, safety, and compliance. Manufacturers and auditors alike can benefit from this, as they will be capable of easily tracking and documenting issues as well as how and when they were resolved. As a best practice, this automation of quality workflow processes is done via an EQMS.
What Can Manufacturers Do to Streamline Compliance?
Similar to other industries, quality is often managed via paper-based or spreadsheet reports in the food and beverage industry. The problem with this approach is that incidents and hazards, corrective actions, and change management are then silo’d in a manual records system and are not able to be queried easily. It can be nearly impossible to isolate specific issues that manufacturers and suppliers have had in the past, which is why it makes the most sense to keep all of that data in one place. For instance, with corrective and preventative action software, just one of the many parts of an EQMS, food and beverage companies are able to not only track a wide variety of incidents from different sources, but also manage incidents more appropriately through automated alerts and extensive reporting capabilities when issues do arise. By automating all of these quality processes in a central repository, food and beverage companies can more easily identify trends and issues across multiple facilities earlier in the process. This practice has already proved successful in the pharmaceutical industry, a vertical that is also heavily regulated by the FDA. Technology advancements like EQMS have made it possible for pharmaceutical companies to remain compliant and reduce the risk of issues such as product recalls.