Mixing Kentucky Spirits with Food Safety to Protect Spent Grains Used to Feed Animals

By: Jenny Murphy, M.S.

“Spent grains” is the general term for the remnants of corn, rye, barley and other grains used to make alcoholic beverages. While they are a byproduct of human-food production, spent grains have a long history of being used as a valuable source of nutrients to feed many animal species. They also have been the subject of ongoing concerns among beverage distillers and brewers over the past few years as the FDA drafted rules that will implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Jenny Murphy holding spent grains

Jenny Murphy, a consumer safety officer in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), with handful of dried spent grain at the Wild Turkey distillery. In background, from left: Shannon Jordre, a consumer safety officer in CVM’s Division of Compliance, Jim Sanders, Distillery Manager at the Wild Turkey Distillery, Steve Barber, director of FDA’s Cincinnati District Office, and Jennifer Erickson, a regulatory policy analyst in CVM’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance.

Those concerns brought an FDA team to the rolling hills of central Kentucky this month to visit distilleries and a craft brewery and to meet members of the distilled spirits and brewers industry. The team was led by Stephen Ostroff, M.D., who was then FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine and who is now the acting FDA commissioner. I represented the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) because of the connection between spent grains and animal health.

Congress included language in FSMA to exempt most alcoholic beverage manufacturing facilities from most of the FSMA requirements. But every day these manufacturers produce tons of spent grain, which are commonly used as animal food rather than being discarded in a landfill. Whether or how spent grains would be regulated under FSMA has been a point of some uncertainty for industry.

Based on the information available at this time, FDA considers the potential animal food safety hazards associated with spent grains from the alcoholic beverage industry to be minimal. The agency has assured these manufacturers that they will only be required to ensure that the byproducts are properly labeled and kept safe from contamination while they are held for distribution if these conditions are met: They continue to follow current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) requirements for human food in the production of their alcoholic beverages, and the resulting spent grains are not further processed. If the grains are further processed, such as by drying, they must follow CGMP requirements, with the flexibility to follow either the human food or animal food CGMPs.

But we have been encountering some confusion among brewers and distillers about these CGMP requirements for human and animal foods and how they would apply to spent-grain products. We wanted to reach a greater level of understanding on both sides, and what better place to do that? Kentucky is, after all, the birthplace of bourbon, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association. Recognized by Congress as a distinctively American product, bourbon is a $3 billion industry in Kentucky that generates 15,400 jobs. Kentucky also has a growing craft beer brewing industry.

containers of wet spent grain

Adam Watson (center), managing member and brewer at Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville, shows the visitors the containers of wet spent grain waiting for pickup outside the brewery.

We were a large group – about 20 participants from FDA’s headquarters and district office, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the state Division of Regulatory Services based at the University of Kentucky, and industry, including the Distilled Spirits Council and Brewers Association. Over the course of two days, we visited the Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam’s Booker Noe plant and Clermont distilleries, as well as the Against the Grain brewery.

This opportunity for education and outreach was extremely productive for all involved. FDA participants were able to allay many concerns and provide clarity about the framework for the CGMPs that the distillers and brewers are expected to meet for both human and animal food. And the distillers and brewers opened their doors, bringing us into their world in a way that was very informative and instructive. There is no substitute for actually seeing how these beverages are produced and how the spent grains are handled.

Although the basic processes are the same, each of the distillers and brewers we visited approaches its work somewhat differently. When it comes to spent grains, there are some operations that simply hold the grain and others with more elaborate processes to distribute the grain because of the large volume produced. We learned distinctions in terminology as the distillers showed us a variety of spent grain products, including wet and dry grains, syrups and cakes.

FDA engaged in this kind of outreach when the FSMA rules were taking shape. Now that the regulations are becoming a reality, we believe these conversations are just as important to help food producers understand what’s expected and avoid any misunderstandings. For FDA, these exchanges help us better understand what, if any, challenges industry may be facing as they strive to meet these new requirements.

Our next step is to take the knowledge we acquired and the lessons we learned and use them to help shape training for regulators and outreach to this industry in support of our shared commitment to keep both human and animal foods safe.

Click here to view FDA’s flickr album from this month’s visit to Kentucky.

Jenny Murphy, M.S., is a consumer safety officer in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

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