SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Changes are coming quickly with expanding Food and Drug Administration oversight of the produce industry, and Michael McCartney said mid-sized companies need to have a plan to meet those expectations.
 
McCartney, managing principal at QLM Consulting in San Francisco, spoke May 6 at the Cal-Poly Packaging Research Consortium on the effect of FDA food safety regulation on the food industry.
 
The importance of food safety staff has increased in the produce industry over the past decade, McCartney said.
 
“The director of food safety (position) didn’t exist 10 years ago,” he said. “Five years ago it was a new position, and now that director is a vice president and is now sitting with the marketing person and going out on calls to assure the buyers that programs in place are actually effective and if something happens, there is a laser-like focus on the issue and they will minimize it.”
 
While finalizing thousands of pages of food safety regulations could take years and will be resisted by some, it is hard to fight against enhanced food safety, he said. 
 
McCartney said that produce companies that are prepared will have the advantage.
 
“(The Food Safety Modernization Act) will look at people who have documents, people who have created a (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) program, companies who have trained their employees and have dedicated food safety staff, and (FDA) will give you a hall pass for the first (years),’ he said.
 
Companies that are not prepared will be at the risk of being made an example of by FDA, he said.
 
“It will be devastating to those who get selected,” he said.
 
Suppliers who provide private label produce will need to be prepared for more scrutiny, because retailers will want to protect their brand image.
 
With the smallest producers exempt from certain food safety regulations, McCartney said mid-size companies may feel the most dramatic regulatory effect.
 
“When it comes to food safety, preparation is the most important thing,” he said.
 
Implementing all regulations into produce operations all over the world is a complex undertaking, he said, but the key principles are prevention and containment.
 
Greater amounts of food safety information will be put on packages and transmitted to consumers by smart phones, he said. 
 
McCartney urged marketing companies to create a food safety plan that has:
  • A risk assessment and analysis of the hazards present;
  • Preventive controls, sanitation controls, personal hygiene, allergen, supplier verifications and process controls;
  • Monitoring and corrective action procedures;
  • Verification procedures;
  • A recall plan;
  • Flow diagrams, decision tree diagrams and staff members tasked for food safety; and 
  • Records that can be easily found and presented.