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  • 2015 AFI U.S. Food Import Industry Annual Report

    Dec 30th, 2015

    President's Report

    Bob Bauer

    Association of Food Industries, Inc.

    Tick, tick, tick. Some of you reading this probably thought of a time bomb. While that can be true for some people for the subject I’m going to cover, for most the tick, tick, tick simply is a reminder that the clock continues to move – toward FSMA implementation.

    Final rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act will be released beginning in the summer of 2015. Tick, tick, tick. If your company has paid attention to what was in the proposed rules and taken steps to address those requirements, the ticking is just the clock in the background. Keep being proactive; keep protecting yourself. We don’t expect many changes in the final rules, so the work you’ve done to date puts you ahead of the game. The final rules won’t go into effect immediately; there will be a phase in time of one to two years in most cases, depending on the size of the company. Though that ticking noise may seem to get a little louder at times, you can keep it as background noise with continued compliance efforts. Don’t let the length of that implementation time fool you. It’s not as long as it sounds and stopping efforts aimed at ensuring compliance will only make the ticking sound louder at some point down the road.

    The time bomb scenario comes into play for those who have not paid attention to the proposed FSMA requirements and/or have not taken steps to ensure compliance. As the guys on the late-night TV infomercials say, Act Now! Don’t Delay!

    Again, we don’t expect a lot of changes from the proposed to the final versions of the rules. So for those who are saying, “we’re waiting until the final rules are published”, bad move. I doubt there’s a company on the planet that has or will put together a preventive controls plan with no required changes. So why put off 100 percent of the initial work for the possibility that rule changes will impact 5 percent of the plan? Putting things off until the final rules are published leaves you that much less time to make any required changes to your plan.

    The “plan” is foundation upon what FSMA is built. It refers to a preventive control plan. Every U.S. facility is required to have a preventive control plan in place that identifies all potential food safety hazards, outlines steps to address those hazards and spells out how the plan will be monitored and verified. FDA can’t directly require foreign facilities to meet these requirements, so the law requires the U.S. importer to be able to ensure the food being imported by the company meets or exceeds the requirements U.S. producers must meet. Therefore, FSMA requires importers to have the preventive control plans for every facility from which it imports.

    So what steps should people be taking?

    Foreign exporters shipping to the U.S.: Design your preventive controls plan. Most companies have such a plan in place but it’s called by a different name. Many people are concerned that although they have a plan in place to meet requirements in the European Union or someplace else, the certifications, etc. are not recognized in the U.S. A key thing to keep in mind is that the plan has to ensure the food is safely prepared; the law does not spell out what certifications are accepted. So a plan a company has in place for the EU, for example, could very well meet most or all of the FSMA requirements.

    Here’s a step to take that not only protects you but sends a strong statement about your commitments to quality and the U.S. market – ask your U.S. customers for a date by which they want to receive your preventive control plans. Not only does it show you’re being proactive, it can give you an idea of how much the customer knows about FSMA regulations. This is important because an importer’s failure to have sufficient plans from each of its customers could lead to FDA halting that company’s operations. You want to work with progressive companies that take the steps needed to protect themselves and you.

    U.S. importers: Request preventive control plans from every facility from which you import. Remember, this is facility-specific, not company-specific. So if you import from a company with more than one facility, get the preventive control plans from all of the facilities producing product you sell. It’s not enough just to get the plans. You need to review them because if a problem arises, the importer is ultimately responsible. Since some of your suppliers will need time to develop/adjust their plans, request this information as soon as possible.

    The relationship between U.S. importers and their foreign suppliers and the FSMA requirements that further connect them are so important there are two articles elsewhere in this publication by attorneys at two leading law firms that cover the topic. Though the perspective in the articles and the report you’re reading now are all a little different, one message is the same – don’t wait! Tick, tick, tick.