We asked Food Safety experts the following question regarding FSMA and SFCA reforms, and they were kind enough to share their insights with us:
What are the key challenges arising from FSMA and SFCA reforms?
University of Guelph
Dr. Robert Hanner
Assessing food authenticity and safety vulnerabilities will be key challenges arising from changing legislation and globalization of food supply chains. Companies cannot ignore risk if they are to continue to thrive in this new environment. Adaptation to change will require the implementation of new procedures and technologies.
- Purchasers / importers of record may underestimate their suppliers’ ability to meet regulatory requirements and as a result, be caught off guard if their supplier is prohibited to supply products from their regulatory agency.
- Larger food manufacturers who are currently certified against a GFSI benchmarked scheme typically have no issue complying with FSMA requirements or upcoming proposed SFCA requirements. With respect to SFCA though, there will be thousands of smaller companies who will now require licensing and who may underestimate the time commitment and expertise required for initial and on-going compliance.
- For companies seeking licensing: Lack of internal resources. Technical expertise, people (IE sufficient staffing), capital ($$), and time. Developing an effective and compliant FSMA or SFCA plan, implementing it, and maintaining it requires all of these resources which we often find small or mid-size companies struggling without.
- Interpretation of the regulations by shippers/consignee’s and a lack of understanding towards the Trucking Food Safety Program. (TFSP)
- From a Carrier stand point, requests from shippers to sign a Food Safety contract could be a conflict with an existing shipper contract in place. There is also a concern in regards to a carrier’s cargo insurance policy and whether the carriers Insurance Company will allow coverage for such terms.
- In many cases, shipper requirements exceed FSMA and SFCA standards. Large carriers servicing hundreds of shippers and facing varying requirements, creates an administrative and logistical challenge. There is a big disconnect between the shippers written policies in regards to transportation and what can be provide particularly in the LTL (Less than Truckload) world where there is mixed freight and multiple deliveries. I.e. segregation and separation of known allergens.
- Ensuring carrier partners are meeting the transportation standards of our security and food safety programs.
- In today’s driver shortage, are there drivers willing to take on these additional responsibilities? Are there simpler driving options?
Food & Consumer Products of Canada
- Understanding the expectations of both the FDA and CFIA with regards to “outcomes-based” and “proving/verifying/validating” the safety of an innovation.
- “Is what I have enough?” This also applies to written food safety programs as well as verifying/validating innovation.
- What is the difference between verification and validation?
- We are also hearing concerns regarding the level of burden on importers, many of whom are very small or small organizations as well as concerns about new “resident importer” requirements in the U.S. The border has been essentially very fluid between Canada and the U.S. with trusted suppliers acting as non-resident importers.
- Outreach to very small and small entities to ensure they are aware of their new obligations, and how they can meet them. Often these smaller businesses are already at capacity dealing with day-to-day activities, and they may need support to ensure compliance
- Understanding FSMA and SFCA – companies are uninformed about the details of the new regulations and what they mean in practical terms and,
- Management Commitment – just like any new initiative, FSMA and SFCA requires buy-in from all stakeholders across the entire organization, particularly those at the top. Management support and participation, especially during the implementation stage is crucial to food safety plan success.
Strawberry Hill Farm
The key challenge that I see relates to the fact that ever increasing regulatory oversight and rigour further restrict market access to the small or new producers. The level of risk is rarely considered in relation to scale. You may ask why this is a problem. What is wrong with having fewer and fewer producers and having the ones that remain grow huge?
For one, very large scale production means that any problems also affect a huge number of people. A much lesser recognized fact is that real innovation and new ideas most often come from outside the current box or paradigm. Our problem in the food industry is that the proverbial “box” is so tight that nothing new can enter. This is good business for the few large corporations but it is very negative for society at large.
A case in point is that many people want free range organic eggs but most people cannot afford or find them because the quota and regulatory system favours the status quo and all but prohibits any other system from entering the market place on any scale.
Government reforms need to balance the need for safe food with the opening for innovation and entrance of new ideas on a small scale. These are tough asks but I believe the future of our food relies on getting this figured out.
Costco Wholesale Canada
For SFCA the new regulations have a significant impact on retailers and other importers due to the vast number of products that they sell and import. Essentially, nearly every food item sold will have to be linked to one or more licences. For example, one brand of a bottle of water may be linked to numerous licences because they product is sourced from multiple production facilities across Canada. Suppliers come and go, or they outsource product to sub-contractors, etc. without necessarily informing the importer or retailer. Managing a database of all food items and corresponding licences will be an enormous and complex task. Retailers and manufacturers currently have no method of verifying if a licence number is valid/expired/suspended because there is no plan at this time for the CFIA to make available a licence database. As importers of hundreds of food items, the large amount of documentation required for review for each item will be onerous. Retailers and importers depend greatly on food safety audits or GFSI certifications to ensure that their suppliers are operating under a strong food safety program and that all hazards are identified and properly controlled. The audit is considered by the CFIA to be only a portion of the PCP required. The review of additional required documentation such as the HACCP program, Supplier Approval Program, Environmental Sampling program, etc. will require the hiring of many qualified individuals and will result in significant costs to retailers and consumers alike. Furthermore, most of these supplemental documents will likely be in languages other than English and French.
Piller’s Fine Foods
For those sectors in the food industry that have never been regulated before, they are in for an eye opener. What we think should be common sense is not so common to the everyday person when it comes to food safety, i.e. basic GMPs such as hand washing. Training is going to be an ongoing challenge for these sectors to ensure their employees and leaders understand the importance of the regulations and interpret them correctly. The new SFCA leaves a lot of opportunity for misinterpretation, especially for someone knew to the regulatory world. Less prescriptive and more risk based.
Canadian Organic Trade Association
From an organic perspective, the SFCR will require that new, never before, aspects of the supply chain be certified to organic standards. While in theory this should assist the industry and regulators with ensuring organic integrity, it will also have unintended consequences.
Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)
I can only speak from a FSMA perspective but I assume experiences with SFCA have been similar. Challenges with suppliers in the US is just making sure the supply chain is aware of the requirements and what they need to do – what rules apply to them. From my personal perspective FSVP has been the most challenging of the rules to work on just due to the amount of information that needs to be collected and reviewed.
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