FDA has published and continues to prepare more draft guidances. As they become available, it’s important for companies to know how and what FDA expects to see during inspections. Now is the time to study the relevant draft documents and submit comments on agency expectations that will impose a high financial burden. In a very real sense, FDA relies on the regulated industry to help the agency understand the real-world implications of its policies as it begins enforcing the new FSMA rules.
The agency has said it will strive to achieve a balance between its public health mission and easing regulatory burdens, and the new administration is committed to continuing that approach.
A case in point is the water quality standards in the produce safety rule. In response to comments from stakeholders, the agency issued a March 20, 2017 notice acknowledging that parts of the FSMA produce rule setting numerical criteria for pre-harvest microbial water quality may be too complex to translate, understand, and implement. The agency is considering ways to simplify the water standards in a fashion that protects public health across the great diversity of circumstance for growing food.
Another issue with many moving parts and implications for industry is the use of third-party audits. The FDA has invited comments on its guidance on the Third-Party Certification Body Accreditation for Food Safety Audits: Model Accreditation Standards. There is no deadline for comment on this guidance.
The VQIP guidance document, FDA’s Voluntary Qualified Importer Program, is closely tied to Third-Party certification and it too needs advice and input from affected industry.
Another key FSMA document, FDA’s Draft Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods, is open for public comment through July 17, 2017.
Remember that even finalized guidance just represents the FDA’s “current thinking” on a topic and is not binding. Companies can “use an alternative approach if it satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations,” the agency says. FDA suggests you contact its Technical Assistance Network (TAN) to discuss any alternative approaches. Although (necessarily) slow to answer policy questions, the TAN’s goal is to be an authoritative source for scientific and technical answers.