First Major FSMA Compliance Dates: Landmarks and Learning Experiences

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D., and Howard Sklamberg, J.D.

The phrase “where the rubber meets the road” is one that comes up in conversations about different subjects, from athletics to academics, when carefully laid plans are put to a crucial test. That’s where we are today with the arrival of the first major compliance dates under the regulations developed by FDA to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

This is the day when larger businesses must comply with certain new standards under the preventive controls rules for human and animal food, two of the main rules developed to drive down the incidence of foodborne illnesses in our country. Larger human food facilities must meet preventive controls and modernized Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements (CGMPs); larger animal food facilities must meet CGMPs. (The human and animal food rules have staggered compliance dates; animal food businesses have additional time to meet the preventive controls standards, as do smaller producers of human foods.)

The preventive controls rules were the first two of seven foundational FSMA rules to become final starting in September 2015. Human food facilities are required to have a food safety system in place that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based preventive controls to minimize or prevent those hazards. The standards that animal food facilities must meet mark the first time that CGMPs have been broadly required for the safe production of animal food.

FSMA was signed into law in 2011 in the wake of mounting concerns by consumers and lawmakers about outbreaks of foodborne illness that kill thousands of people and animals every year. What followed was an unprecedented effort by FDA to involve the diverse landscape of food safety stakeholders, including growers, manufacturers, importers, distributors, consumer groups, and academic institutions, in the formulation of rules that are practical, flexible and effective for the food industry at home and abroad while protecting the public from contaminated food.

Howard Sklamberg

Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

Since FSMA was enacted in 2011, we have literally traveled the world to get input on the rules we proposed in 2013 and early 2014 to implement the law. FDA teams have been involved in approximately 600 engagements, including public meetings, webinars, listening sessions, farm tours, visits to manufacturing plants and extensive presentations and meetings with various stakeholder groups.

As a result of these conversations, we made significant changes in September 2014 to four of the FSMA proposed rules, including the preventive controls rules, to make them more feasible and, ultimately, more effective.

So what happens now? This is a new chapter for all of us. FDA is focusing on providing the support that companies need to comply with the new requirements with education, training and technical assistance. We will be looking at how facilities are working to comply with the new food-safety standards and protect consumers from unsafe food. Of course, our mandate is to protect public health and, when necessary, the agency will act swiftly to do so.

The conversations we had with stakeholders in creating the rules will continue as we move further into the implementation phase with the preventive controls and other rules. We will be sharing our thinking on how requirements should be met in guidance documents and asking for the public to continue to provide feedback. If necessary, changes will be made; aspects of the rules will be fine-tuned. This first wave of compliance dates is important to the entire spectrum of FSMA implementation; the lessons learned will be invaluable in the years ahead when smaller food facilities are held to the new standards.

So today, the rubber meets the road. But these compliance dates aren’t the beginning of the end of our work to make FSMA a reality. They’re the end of the beginning. The partnership that FDA has forged with food producers of all kinds, and with its state, local, tribal and international regulatory partners, will ultimately protect consumers for generations to come.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine; Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

On Dauphin Island, FDA Scientists Work to Keep Seafood Safe

By: Capt. William Burkhardt III, Ph.D.

On a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, two dozen scientists and staff in the FDA’s only marine research laboratory have one common goal: to keep consumers safe from contaminated or unsafe seafood.

I am the director of the FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory (GCSL) on Dauphin Island, Alabama, where we detect chemical and biological hazards and work to reduce the likelihood of illness associated with seafood. In early August, the agency invited U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt to tour the facility and see our work first-hand. Rep. Aderholt represents Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District and chairs the House Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Gulf Seafood Lab

Robert Hayes Aderholt feeds crabs at the Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory as his father, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, and biologist Kathy El Said look on.

At the GCSL, we use the latest technology to detect and identify things that can potentially contaminate seafood. There are drug and chemical residues that may be present from the use of antibiotics and other chemicals in aquaculture production. There are also petrochemicals from off-shore drilling.

There are marine biotoxins that occur naturally, such as harmful algal toxins that go up the marine food chain and eventually get into fish. There are bacteria that occur naturally in marine waters, such as vibrios, that can cause serious, even deadly, illnesses. And there are viruses, such as the norovirus, in marine water that are ingested by shellfish.

We routinely test a wide array of samples from public and private sources, and work closely with FDA’s compliance and enforcement teams in and out of the country so that action can be taken when appropriate.

Our scientists are often brought in when a natural or man-made disaster threatens to contaminate fish or an outbreak is tied to seafood. We’re involved right now in the response to an outbreak of hepatitis A in Hawaii tied to imported scallops, providing microbiological support to identify the virus that has sickened more than 200 people.

Group photo at Gulf Seafood Lab

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (front row, center) poses with FDA’s team at the marine research laboratory. Also in the front row are lab director Capt. William Burkhardt III (left) and William Jones, deputy director of FDA’s Office of Food Safety (right).

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, spilling an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, we staffed sampling locations. A year after that spill, we allayed the concerns of fishermen participating in the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo tournament, billed as the largest fishing tournament in the world. FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs set up a mobile laboratory in our parking lot and together we tested samples that fishermen brought in, working round-the-clock for two weeks. We were able to assure the fishermen that there was no oil or dispersants in their fish.

In 2005, we were heavily involved in the response to Hurricane Katrina, in which there were concerns that chemicals would be swept into the Gulf and then into the fish. We deployed staff to sample crabs, shrimp and other seafood and send them by courier back to our labs. Ultimately, we found some elevated levels of bacterial contamination, but that dissipated relatively quickly during the time in which the area was closed to fishing.

We are also invited by other countries to assist in emergency response. For example, six years ago we traveled to Chile after an earthquake there and used our technology to detect norovirus in the drinking water.

When Haiti was hit with a cholera outbreak in 2010, we responded in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our tests found cholera in seafood collected from Port au Prince. These findings were used to tighten recommendations on the movement of ballast water in and out of ships to minimize transmission of the outbreak.

We work with the seafood industry to find practical solutions to common problems. For example, we’re working with oyster fisherman to identify strategies to control bacterial (vibrio) growth. And we’ve advised barracuda fishermen to avoid certain parts of the Caribbean where the fish are vulnerable to biotoxins.

As I showed Rep. Aderholt around our labs, it was a good opportunity to reflect on the important work we do here and the impact we have. Whether it’s in the United States or overseas, we want to be known as a group of scientists that helps people everywhere enjoy seafood safely.

Capt. William Burkhardt III, Ph.D., is the Director of FDA’s Division of Seafood Science and Technology

FDA Cooperative Agreements with States to Advance Food Safety

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Today, the FDA is honoring an important commitment by awarding millions of dollars to the states that will help implement the new produce safety rule mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to protect consumers from foodborne illness.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.In FSMA, Congress envisioned a strong partnership between the FDA and the state agencies that have a greater understanding of the growing and harvesting practices in their areas. Many have longstanding relationships with farmers and produce associations.

To support this partnership, the FDA is awarding $21.8 million in cooperative agreements to 42 states in support of their work to help implement the new produce rule. These funds will provide states with the resources they need to develop a produce safety system, considering the specific and unique needs of their growers for education, outreach, and technical assistance.

The funding for each state is based on the estimated number of farms in the state that grow produce covered by the FSMA rule.  The goal is to provide resources that will enable the states to develop a multi-faceted, multi-year plan that includes an assessment of their produce safety landscape, including an evaluation of existing state authorities to implement a produce safety program and ways to develop a strong outreach and education program with growers.

The produce safety rule, which became final in November 2015, establishes science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables. State leaders were key partners as the produce provisions were being developed, providing valuable input on how to make the requirements as practical and flexible as possible for growers while still protecting public health.

The cooperative agreements build on a foundation laid long before the produce rule became final. Enacted in 2011, FSMA included several important provisions aimed at strengthening the National Integrated Food Safety System so that the more than 3,000 state, local, and tribal government agencies involved in food safety are fully integrated in FDA’s work to fulfill FSMA’s mandate.

We have been steadily building this system, and in our FY2017 budget request we have asked Congress for an additional $11.3 million in new budget authority to further support the development of state produce safety programs.

In 2014, the FDA entered into a five-year cooperative agreement with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) that brought together state partners to collaboratively plan implementation of the produce safety rule. The framework developed by NASDA will guide and inform states as they work on their own regulatory programs.

The cooperative agreements are part of a long-term strategy to strengthen this working partnership with the states. We’re in this together and the FDA will continue to support its state partners as we work to make the vision of a preventive and risk-based food safety system a reality.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

FDA Is Preparing Guidances that Will Help Food Companies Prevent Foodborne Illness

By: Susan Mayne, Ph.D., and Tracey Forfa, J.D.

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When we were drafting and seeking public comment on the rules that will implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), we promised that we would do whatever we could to help the regulated industry understand and meet the new requirements.

Susan Mayne

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

We meant what we said about “educating before and while we regulate,” since these new standards will ultimately transform the nation’s food safety system.

This month, we have taken important steps in fulfilling that promise with the release of three draft guidances that when finalized will help domestic and foreign food facilities meet the requirements of the preventive controls rules that became final in September 2015.

Those rules require hazard prevention practices in human and animal food processing, packing, and storage facilities. FSMA created the framework that holds manufacturers accountable for having a food safety plan, implementing it, verifying that it is working, and taking corrective action when it isn’t. Compliance dates are fast approaching for large food facilities. The human food facilities must meet preventive controls and Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements (CGMPs) and the animal food facilities must meet CGMPs by September 19, 2016. (The preventive controls rules have staggered compliance dates; smaller facilities have a year or more additional time to comply.)

One of the draft guidance documents covers ways to comply with the preventive controls requirements of the human food rule. Given the scope of that rule, we are prepared to issue only five draft chapters now, covering specific sections of the rule, but we will ultimately issue 14 chapters in all.

Tracey Forfa

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

These initial chapters cover basic information about establishing preventive controls in a human food facility. The first chapter is about the food safety plan in which a human food facility outlines how it has identified and evaluated its food safety hazards and how it will control hazards requiring preventive controls. The subsequent chapters provide direction on conducting a hazard analysis; understanding the biological, chemical and physical hazards that are commonly of concern; identifying and implementing the preventive controls that will significantly minimize or prevent hazards; and managing the preventive controls through such actions as monitoring, corrective actions and verification activities.

The other two draft guidances when finalized will help domestic and foreign facilities comply with key requirements in the Preventive Controls for Animal Food rule, which covers all animal food, including animal feed and pet food. One of those documents provides direction on ways to comply with the rule’s CGMP requirements, which are baseline food safety and sanitation standards for animal food facilities. This draft guidance also provides information on provisions related to the CGMP requirements, such as qualifications and training of personnel.

While CGMPs have long existed for the production of human food, this is the first time that most animal food producers will be subject to CGMPs. Concerns about incidents of food contamination that were sickening and killing pets were among the driving forces behind the enactment of FSMA.

The third draft guidance when finalized will help domestic and foreign food facilities whose by-products of human food production are used as animal food. Such by-products include grain products and vegetable pulp. They also include foods like potato chips, baked goods and pasta that are safe to eat but considered the wrong size, shape, color or texture.

Food producers required to meet food safety requirements for human foods had been concerned that they would have to meet a whole new set of requirements for such by-products. The draft guidance makes clear that the by-product will only be subject to limited CGMPs to protect it from contamination during holding and distribution, if the human food facility is subject to and in compliance with FDA’s human food CGMPs and all applicable human food safety requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and implementing regulations and is not further processing the by-products for use as animal food.

If the human food facility is further processing the by-products, the facility has a choice of complying with the requirements of either the human or animal food rule, as long as the food safety plan addresses how the facility will prevent or significantly minimize the hazards for the animal food that require a preventive control.

These draft guidances, and the others that we’re working on for the FSMA rules, will be further refined based on input we receive from the public. The comments we received on the proposed FSMA rules were important in helping us shape the final rules so we look forward to working with stakeholders in the same way on these documents.

Meeting the FSMA mandate involves cooperation between the FDA and the food industry. From the smallest food operation to the largest company, we want to be sure that we’re all on the same page and these draft guidances will help get us there.

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

Practical Applications of FDA Regulations for the Indian Food Industry

By: Dean Rugnetta

Dean RugnettaGlobalization of the food supply chain and advances in food processing technologies have led American consumers to develop a taste for a variety of foods and cuisines from different countries. Increasingly, U.S. grocery stores sell foods from Asia, Latin America, and many other parts of the world. Indian exporters have recognized this marketing opportunity, and FDA information shows an increase in U.S. imports from India over the past 10 years. A wealth of ready-to-eat Indian specialties can be found in cans and bottles on U.S. store shelves including Indian curries (a.k.a. gravies), canned sweets, pickled cucumbers, and Indian pickles (chopped fruits and vegetables marinated in brine).

A serious potential health risk in canned and bottled foods

FDA’s regulations for processing shelf-stable or commercially sterile food — such as certain canned and bottled foods — were promulgated in the 1970’s in response to deaths related to botulism poisoning. Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by the bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.  FDA’s regulations require that processors heat and/or formulate low acid canned foods and acidified foods in a manner that eliminates favorable growth conditions for such toxins.

The regulations also require that supervisors in plants that manufacture such products be trained in appropriate processing methods. In the United States, FDA collaborates with industry groups, academia and other stakeholders to offer “Better Process Control Schools,” which typically provide two to five days of training.

Better Process Control School in India

Better Process Control School Class Group Photo

Students attending Better Process Control School in India

India now has a Better Process Control School where supervisors at any of the 300 FDA-registered facilities can attend training on how to safely process low acid canned foods and acidified foods. The school was established in 2010 when FDA’s India Office partnered with FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), and a local university in New Delhi, India. The school has convened three separate times since then, most recently this spring. The training helps local processors learn FDA’s regulatory requirements and fulfill a regulatory mandate. Processors that successfully complete the course receive a certificate.

The long-term goal of the training partnership in India is to establish a locally sponsored, self-sustaining class and demonstrates how FDA’s international outreach efforts are improving the safety of imported food products.

Dean Rugnetta is the Deputy Director of FDA’s India Office in New Delhi, India 

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Addressing Global Challenges through Transatlantic Cooperation

By: Howard Sklamberg, J.D., Lou Valdez, and Donald Prater

Howard Sklamberg

Howard Sklamberg, J.D., FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

On a recent trip to Brussels, our FDA delegation met with many of our European Union (EU) regulatory counterparts and stakeholders to discuss ways to strengthen our shared commitment to product safety and public health.  

Reflecting the broad scope of our transatlantic dialogue, we engaged on an array of issues, including supply chain safety, quality metrics, risk-based surveillance, data integrity, mutual reliance, and food safety systems.

Building on previous exchanges between FDA and the European Parliament (EP), we first met with Members of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, known as ENVI.  ENVI Committee members visited FDA in 2013 and 2015 to share their perspective on how certain health-related topics are being addressed in the European Union. In addition, our FDA delegation exchanged views on recent trilateral cooperation with India and China on Good Clinical Practices and food safety and other approaches to cooperation on the international stage.

Lou Valdez

Mary Lou Valdez, FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs

We then met with the head of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), Director General Xavier Prats-Monné, and his colleagues.

We shared our observations on several topics, including:

  • How drug development has changed, including globalization of suppliers and distributors;
  • The challenges among regulatory bodies in keeping pace with risk-based allocation of inspection resources;
  • The complexity of the global supply chain and the need to collaborate on enforcement;
  • The significant progress being made on the Mutual Reliance Initiative (MRI);
  • Pharmaceutical GMP inspections; and
  • The interaction among FDA’s Europe, China, and India offices and regulatory counterparts in the EU and Governments of China and India.
Donald Prater

Donald Prater, D.V.M., Director of the Europe Office in FDA’s Office of International Programs.

We then turned to food safety. Currently, the U.S. and the European Commission are working on a Food Safety Systems Recognition arrangement, a program that FDA has developed to increase regulatory cooperation and build toward reliance on the work of regulatory counterparts.

Such cooperation is facilitated through the reciprocal assessment of one another’s food safety systems to ensure the safety of foods produced under one another’s oversight. The United States already has an arrangement in place with New Zealand and recently signed one with Canada.

We also reviewed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and discussed ways FDA and the European Commission can assist suppliers in the EU to better understand the FSMA requirements. Acknowledging that food safety standards are quite high in the United States and the EU, we discussed ways we can leverage the systems on both sides of the Atlantic to further protect consumers and more efficiently use our oversight resources globally.

FDA and EU Delegations in Brussels

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) delegation met with many of their European Union (EU) regulatory counterparts in Brussels to discuss ways to strengthen the shared commitment to product safety and public health. Pictured from left to right are: Karin Kadenbach, Member European Parliament (MEP); Sandy Kweder, Deputy Director, FDA’s European Office; Lou Valdez, FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs; Matthias Groote, MEP; Howard Sklamberg, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy; and, Susanne Melior, MEP.

Next up were meetings on medical devices and cosmetics with the Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and SMEs, also known as DG GROWTH.

We were welcomed by Carlo Pettinelli, Head of the Directorate for Consumer, Environmental and Health Technologies, and we discussed the key objectives of the Medical Device Single Audit Program (MDSAP) of the International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF). Mr. Pettinelli acknowledged the importance of MDSAP, and indicated that the European Commission would continue to provide coordination and communication to support the engagement of EU Member States in the program.

We also set aside time for discussion with key industry stakeholders representing medical products – primarily drugs and devices, including, the American Chamber of Commerce Healthcare Committee to the EU and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Association (EFPIA). There we reviewed FDA’s Pharmaceutical Quality and MRI initiatives.

Our trip concluded with a media roundtable and a briefing to the Deputy Chief of Mission and staff at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. Our FDA Europe Office is based at the USEU and provides critical support to U.S. Ambassador Anthony Gardner.

Throughout all our meetings, one theme was crystal clear: Transatlantic cooperation is vitally important to address the challenges and opportunities of a globalized marketplace.  By carefully evaluating and understanding each other’s regulatory systems, there is tremendous potential to better allocate our resources based on risk, and improve the safety of food, medical products, cosmetics, and other products around the world.

Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is the Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

Mary Lou Valdez is the Associate Commissioner for International Programs

Donald Prater is Director of FDA’s Europe Office

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Efficient and effective regulatory systems are the tide that raises all boats

By: Mary Lou Valdez, M.S.M., and Kristin Wedding

Lou Valdez

Mary Lou Valdez, FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs

Do you think it’s possible to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all people of all ages by 2030? That’s just one of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the world’s leaders agreed to in September 2015. And, FDA has an important role in supporting these goals.

On June 23-24, 2016, we had the opportunity to participate in the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Forum on Public-Private Partnerships for Global Health and Safety (PPP Forum). The two-day workshop focused on engaging the private sector and developing partnerships to advance health and the SDGs.

Good health and well-being are linked to many of the SDGs, including zero hunger, ending poverty, economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, and reduced inequalities. But what, you might ask, are FDA’s potential contributions as a regulatory agency in achieving the SDGs?

Regulatory Systems and the SDGs: the Challenges

Kristin Wedding

Kristin Wedding is International Policy Analyst in FDA’s Office of International Programs

Strong functioning regulatory systems for food and medical products are at the nexus of public health, economic development, trade, and investment. Within our public health mission, effective regulatory systems often are a necessary precursor for economic development and growth, including private sector investment. Conversely, the absence of effective regulatory systems is an underlying threat to achieving many of the SDGs. For example:

  • unsafe food contributes to malnutrition and jeopardizes food security (Goal 2);
  • lack of access to safe and effective medical treatments exacerbates chronic diseases (Goal 3), and impedes people from getting and keeping a job (Goal 8).
  • illness hampers children’s learning and school attendance (Goal 4), and often disproportionately impacts girls (Goal 5); and,
  • insufficient access to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6) results in the death of more than 1,000 children each day from preventable diarrheal diseases.

Regulatory Systems and the SDGs: the Opportunities

At the workshop, FDA chaired an expert panel on the critical role of regulatory systems and PPPs in promoting global public health, economic development, and sustainable investments to achieve the SDGs. We were joined by Dr. Juergen Voegele of the World Bank, Dr. Rajeev Venkayya of Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and Dr. Dan Hartman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Despite our diversity, we sent a unified message that regulatory systems are essential drivers for the success and sustainability of global health investments to meet the SDGs. It is the responsibility of all of us – as stakeholders, donors, and partners – to make our investments matter.

UN Panel Discussion

Panel discussion at National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Forum on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for Global Health and Safety: A Workshop on Engaging the Private Sector and Developing Partnerships to Advance Health and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Mary Lou Valdez, M.S.M, Associate Commissioner for International Programs, FDA, and Juergen Voegele, Ph.D., Senior Director, Agriculture Global Practice, The World Bank.

FDA participates in a number of global partnerships aimed at strengthening regulatory systems, including the World Bank-led Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) the PPP Forum, as well as our work with multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization.

We look forward to continuing the discussion about future pathways for collaboration and action in demonstrating the critical roles regulatory systems play in the attainment of the SDGs. The public health of U.S. citizens – and others around the globe – can benefit from our efforts now and in the future.

As Dr. Hartman so aptly noted during the panel session, in this time of globalization “efficient and effective regulatory systems are the tide that raises all boats.”

Mary Lou Valdez, M.S.M., is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs

Kristin Wedding is International Policy Analyst in FDA’s Office of International Programs

Charting a Path Forward on Food Safety, Nutrition and Animal Health

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Susan Mayne, Ph.D., and Tracey Forfa, J.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

At FDA, we need to be prepared for the opportunities and challenges of today as well as those of tomorrow, and the FDA Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program’s new Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2016-2025 helps us to do just that.

Our new Strategic Plan makes it clear that we must have an overarching and risk-based approach that encompasses our broad portfolio of responsibilities. The plan organizes this work under four key goals: food safety, nutrition, animal health and organizational excellence.  Whether it’s chemical safety, dietary supplements, cosmetics, genetic engineering, nutrition labeling, antimicrobial resistance, review of animal drugs, or ensuring that we have the right technologies to identify hazards in the commodities we regulate—all of these issues impact the public health.  FDA is a public health agency first and foremost—and that is where our focus will be, using the core principle of science and tools such as regulation and guidance, research, and outreach and education to get us there. This fall, we’ll be issuing a broad implementation plan which will highlight specific actions under these four goals.

Susan Mayne

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Over the past several years we’ve made a lot of progress in a number of key areas. We have been very focused on developing the implementation framework for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), an enormous undertaking to modernize our preventive approach to food safety, and that work will continue. At the same time, we’ve made great headway on nutrition, modernizing the Nutrition Facts label, publishing draft, voluntary targets for reducing sodium in various foods, and making a final determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe.”  We’ve addressed the impact of animal agriculture on antimicrobial resistance by phasing out the use of medically important antimicrobials for production use and bringing remaining uses under the direction of veterinarians. And whole genome sequencing has helped us to identify the sources of foodborne illness outbreaks with speed and precision.

Tracey Forfa

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

One important lesson we learned from our work on FSMA that we can apply moving forward is the importance of transparency and active stakeholder engagement. We transformed the way we do business, and it helped to make our work on FSMA successful. Sometimes, our perspectives may differ from those of our stakeholders, but the important thing is that we seek common areas of alignment to solve problems. We plan to use this approach more broadly.

It’s important that our plan stays current. It will be updated to reflect emerging science, technology, innovation, and trends in globalization. It will keep pace with emerging hazards and risks in the products we regulate. That is why we are establishing an open docket. Comments can be submitted at any time, so that we can consider them and update the plan at least every two years.

We encourage you to take a look at the plan and let us know what you think. We will have plenty of opportunity for discussion in the months and years to come as we work to improve the public health together.

Read the Foods and Veterinary Medicine (FVM) Program’s Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2016–2025

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

Registration of Food Facilities: A Key Link in the Safety Chain

By: Erwin C. Miller, M.S.

The FDA’s mission to protect consumers from unsafe food follows different paths. The seven rules that have been finalized since last fall to implement the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will require food producers, importers, and transporters to take science- and risk-based actions to help prevent the contamination that leads to foodborne illness.

Erwin MillerToday, the agency finalizes another rule to implement FSMA, one that updates the requirements for the registration of domestic and foreign food facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for consumption in the United States, whether for people or for animals. Under the final rule, additional information will be required that will ultimately support the FDA’s ability to respond quickly to food-related emergencies and that will also help the agency more efficiently use the resources it has for inspections.

The registration rule also will affect establishments located on farms and “farm-operated businesses” by expanding the definition of a “retail food establishment,” which is not required to register as a food facility. The expansion of this definition would allow the inclusion of sales directly to consumers at roadside stands, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and other such direct-to-consumer platforms in determining an establishment’s primary function and thus whether it meets the definition of a retail food establishment. Congress, through FSMA, directed FDA to amend this definition. (Under the final rule, a farm-operated business is a business managed by one or more farms and that conducts manufacturing/processing not on the farm.)

The registration of food facilities has long been considered a key component of food safety. The September 2001 terrorist attacks highlighted the need to enhance the security of the infrastructure of the United States, including the food supply. Congress responded by enacting the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (called the Bioterrorism Act). This law directed the FDA to require food facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for consumption in the United States to register with the agency.

Nine years later, FSMA required that facilities renew their registrations biennially, among other new registration requirements. The biennial renewal requirement was effective upon enactment of FSMA, and the final rule codifies this and other registration requirements. The final registration rule also requires some new information, including the type of activity conducted for each category of food product and certain email address information to help expedite communication between the facilities and the agency. In addition, the final rule establishes mandatory electronic registration (with the availability of a waiver process) beginning January 4, 2020.

Facilities also will be required to provide a unique facility identifier (UFI) number as part of the registration process. This will allow the FDA to verify the facility-specific address associated with the UFI and help the agency ensure the accuracy of the registration database in a way that has not been possible under the current system. FDA plans to issue a guidance document to support compliance with the UFI requirement. Food facilities will be required to provide a UFI beginning October 1, 2020.

Together, the requirements in the final rule will be invaluable in providing the FDA with more accurate information about facility locations and information about the activities within facilities—thus aiding investigators in responding to foodborne illness outbreaks or earthquakes, floods, or other disasters. The final rule will also help the agency identify high-risk facilities and ensure that personnel with the proper training are dispatched to conduct an inspection.

While there is no fee for registration, some in the food industry submitted comments stating that certain aspects of the proposed rule would be too burdensome. In response to these comments, the agency has postponed the requirement for mandatory electronic registrations and the submission of a UFI to 2020 to ensure that facilities have ample time to comply.

The next biennial registration period will be October 1 through December 31, 2016. The FDA is committed to working with the food industry to facilitate implementation of this rule and address any questions that arise.

Erwin C. Miller, M.S., is the Chief for the Data Systems Integration Branch in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

FDA Advisory Committee Members and ‘Appearance Issues’

By: Michael Ortwerth, Ph.D.

FDA relies on its advisory committees as a source of independent scientific and technical expertise and advice on challenging public health issues. Most advisory committee members are appointed as “special government employees” (SGEs). Like regular government employees, these committee members are subject to Federal conflict of interest laws and regulations.

Michael OrtwerthA lack of understanding about our selection and evaluation process has, at times, resulted in confusion and misunderstandings by the public.  We’ve been working to bring greater transparency to how the financial interests of committee members are evaluated.

In 2008, we published “Guidance for the Public, FDA Advisory Committee Members, and FDA Staff on Procedures for Determining Conflict of Interest and Eligibility for Participation in FDA Advisory Committees.” That guidance describes how we apply financial conflict of interest requirements.

What has not been previously addressed in guidance is something called “appearance issues.” Sometimes FDA advisory committee members who do not have interests and relationships that are financial conflicts of interest nevertheless have interests and relationships that may create the appearance that they lack impartiality. Appearance issues are addressed in a government-wide regulation regarding standards of ethical conduct for government employees at 5 CFR 2635.502 (informally known as “Section 502”).

Some examples include:

  • When a member of the household works or is seeking to work for the sponsor with a product before the committee;
  • When a member has had past financial interests with the sponsor with a product before the committee; and,
  • When a member has a current consulting contract with a sponsor but the contract is not related to the product or issue before the committee.

We have recently published new draft guidance describing FDA’s procedures for evaluating appearance issues and how we determine whether to grant an authorization for a member with an appearance issue to participate in an FDA advisory committee.

Section 502 implements the ethical principle that a government employee should be impartial in performing their official duties, meaning that they must not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual or use public office for private gain. To the extent that an advisory committee member’s performance of official duties might appear to benefit themselves or certain other individuals who are close to them, they must take appropriate steps to avoid an appearance of violating these ethical principles.

We also explain in the draft guidance the circumstances that FDA considers when determining whether an appearance issue may exist. We evaluate the circumstances and assess whether the interests, relationships, or circumstances would cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts to question the advisory committee member’s impartiality in the matter before the committee. For example, if an advisory committee member serves on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization and that organization receives donations from the sponsor that is presenting before the committee, we review the details of the donation to determine whether the member should be cleared for service on the advisory committee.

FDA has flexibility and discretion in deciding whether an advisory committee member with an appearance issue should be authorized to participate in the advisory committee meeting. We evaluate whether the government’s interest in the advisory committee member’s participation outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the agency’s programs and operations. If so, FDA may authorize the member to participate in the meeting.

Although FDA advisory committees provide advice and input to the Agency, FDA makes the final decisions.

The draft guidance is being issued for public comment before we issue a final guidance. Under Federal law, FDA is not permitted to disclose confidential information provided by advisory committee members related to appearance issues. But we are specifically requesting comments on whether the agency should request that advisory committee members voluntarily disclose if they have been granted an appearance authorization.

FDA is committed to ensuring that appropriate expertise and experience is brought to bear on the critical public health issues facing the agency. Often, we convene advisory committee meetings to obtain independent expert advice and perspective. At the same time, it is important that the process we use to screen advisory committee members for participation in meetings be as transparent as possible, and that we protect the credibility and integrity of advisory committee advice. We welcome your comments on how the agency can continue to meet these important goals.

Michael Ortwerth, Ph.D,. is FDA’s Director of the Advisory Committee Oversight and Management Staff