Each month EAS’ Ask the Expert answers questions sent in by readers on a variety of FDA regulatory topics. This month’s question on FDA’s regulation of lasers and 510(k) applications is answered by Jerry Dennis. Jerry is a former member of CDRH where he was responsible for radiation safety standards for laser products, (21 CFR 1040). He also developed regulatory policies and guided CDRH in report review criteria and regulatory policy pursuant to the Radiation Control Act and its regulation on radiation physics and biological effects. Prior to CDRH, he was a manager of high energy laser products for Hadron, Inc. If you would like to ask a question of our experts, click here.
Question: Is the FDA laser standard and product report in addition to the requirement for premarket notification (510k) or premarket approval?
Answer: Yes! And, FDA has additional regulatory requirements not only for laser products that are medical devices but also for other medical devices that generate radiation of any kind, in addition to requirements for certain other kinds of electronic products that generate radiation.
The FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) has promulgated radiation safety performance standards for the following kinds of medical devices: diagnostic x-ray systems and their major components; radiographic equipment; fluoroscopic equipment; CT equipment; medical laser products; sunlamps and UV lamps for tanning; and ultrasonic therapy products. Additionally, there are such standards for television receivers, cold-cathode gas discharge tubes, microwave ovens, laser products other than medical laser products, and high-intensity mercury vapor lamps (for general illumination).
Manufacturers and/or US importers of products subject to such standards are required by regulation to certify their products’ compliance with the applicable standards, to submit product reports that describe their products and their manner of compliance with the standards and annual reports and to maintain distribution records. Additional portions of the regulations cover notifications and corrections. General requirements under these regulations require reporting of radiation defects or of accidental radiation occurrences for all products that generate radiation whether or not there is an FDA standard. The FDA electronic product radiation safety regulations are in 21 CFR 1000 through 1050. The only exception is that mandatory reporting under part 803 supersedes the reporting of accidental radiation occurrences for electronic products that are also medical devices.
If your company produces a radiation emitting product, contact EAS for assistance with product development and testing protocols, filing reports to FDA and appropriate packaging and insert labeling.
This month’s Ask the Expert is on how to prioritize planning for food safety emergencies, particularly in light of the challenges of not only the emergency itself but recovering from it with your company’s reputation intact. It is answered by Charles Breen, EAS Independent Advisor for FSMA and Stacey Stevens, a Senior Vice President at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla. FoodMinds is EAS’ newest cooperative partner, and together our services help our clients working in the food industry to tackle regulatory and public relations challenges.
Question: As part of FSMA I am working to develop our company’s food safety contingency plans. How do I prioritize and plan for the first steps we need to take – investigations, recall communications and managing our public relations?
Answer: Great question and one worthy for all companies to consider, especially, as you point out on the regulatory side, FSMA mandates include both a hazard analysis risk assessment and if hazards in need of control exist, a recall plan. In addition, every company strives to mitigate harm to its reputation in the face of public scrutiny. So, how does one go about developing a comprehensive plan and assigning tasks on both sides of the coin? First, on the safety front:
In the interest of public safety, whenever a food safety issue has been reported, whether by FDA, another food safety authority or the public, unless you can unequivocally rule out your product as the culprit, initiate a recall. While the FDA and other food safety authorities could be wrong, they very rarely are. This will help to limit further harm, particularly in the case of Class 1 recalls which have a high likelihood of injury or death. Make sure management, as well as legal representatives, are informed of the decision to recall.
Next, per regulation, file a Reportable Food Registry report on FDA’s website. This must be completed within 24 hours of learning of the problem. It’s OK to have incomplete information to start, you must update the file as more information becomes available.
Keep good records and implement your Trace Back and Trace Forward action plan – match ingredients and sources with bills of lading so that you can attempt to identify the source of the problem. Establish the last documented evidence before the problem arose, the time the problem became known, and documentation that it was controlled. You’ll also need to identify recipients of the product and alert them directly. If those recipients cannot be accurately identified, the recall will grow exponentially larger, more expensive, and harder to manage.
Next, on the communications front, remember to take control of the messaging and communicate early and often. The public will want to know what you are doing to protect them now and how you will do things differently in the future. Be empathetic, forthcoming, and express an understanding of the seriousness of the situation. Don’t forget social and on-line media, websites and microsites – post brief updates in real time to keep everyone informed from line employees to key stakeholders and consumers.
In many cases, companies involved in a food safety emergency will enlist the assistance of qualified and experienced third-party consultants to help them through the crucial regulatory and safety steps as well as strategic public relations messaging.
Ask the Expert offers a chance for our readers to submit questions to EAS regarding areas of regulatory confusion. This month’s question is answered by Allen Sayler, Senior Director of Food Consulting Services. If you’d like to submit a question, please use the “contact us” link on our website.
Question:FDA is cracking down on enforcement of the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) through inspections of US-based FSVP importers with almost 200 FDA 483s issued stating “failure to develop an FSVP” which allows FDA to designate the imported food as “adulterated” and demand it be removed from the US marketplace. FDA has budgeted over 2000 foreign inspections/investigations during the coming year so “failure to develop an FSVP” is likely to become more common, forcing FDA’s hand to strengthen its regulatory enforcement. The question is, “When will FDA remove the “soft glove”, training and educational approach and move toward active enforcement of the FSVP regulation?” The second related question is, “How does the FSVP Importer know if their FSVP meets FDA expectation?”
Answer: Interesting questions and one thing I have learned during my long regulatory career is that one can never accurately predict when FDA will publish a new regulation, direct their field investigators to intensify their regulatory effort or ramp-up compliance enforcement. In trying to determine the general time period when FDA may start to take more aggressive regulatory action against US-based FSVP Importers, it is important to look at “signs”. One sign is the recent statistics indicating as of mid-June 2018, the number of FSVP-focused inspections the Agency has conducted is nearly equal to the total number for all of the calendar year 2017. In more detail, well over half of the number of FSVP inspections so far have resulted in the issuance of Form 483s, noting that the FSVP Importer has failed to develop an FSVP program including a written hazard analysis plan, an effective and written supplier management program and the correct foreign supplier documentation available for FDA review at the US-based FSVP Importer’s office. Another sign is when the Agency believes it has fully trained most or all of those field investigators so they are equipped to conduct the on-site FSVP investigations. It appears this has been completed or is near completion for the FSVP regulation. Additionally, foodborne illness outbreaks are a key sign, and over the past year, the incidence of foodborne illness from imported foods does not appear to have increased significantly so this “sign” does not appear to be pushing FDA to strengthen FSVP enforcement, although one serious foodborne illness outbreak attributed to imported foods will immediately change this “sign”. All of these together, indicate that the Agency is preparing for more aggressive FSVP enforcement which will likely mean those importers with inadequate or missing FSVP programs will have their products blocked from import. If one had to guess, we anticipate this stronger FSVP enforcement of FDA to start sometime in late 2018 to early 2019 for human foods.
How can firms ensure that they have a developed FSVP that meet’s FDA’s expectations? As Sharon Mayl, Senior Advisor for Policy in the Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine at FDA, said in an interview, “FSVP inspections are based on the review of records, rather than observations of food production. In addition to an onsite visit, FSVP inspections may include a documentation review of materials sent to FDA upon request. The investigator will review these materials for deficiencies.
One way to address this is to contract for the services of a qualified consultant to perform the FSVP Qualified Individual responsibilities. This would also solve the second question for US-based FSVP Importers, “How does the FSVP Importer know if their FSVP meets FDA expectation?” The other way is to hire a Qualified Individual that as the credentials identified in the FSVP regulations. Either way, you need a knowledgeable, well trained “Qualified Individual.” EAS has a number of food safety experts available to serve as the Qualified Individual, should you decide to contract out this important responsibility.
This month’s Ask the Expert is answered by EAS Independent Advisor for OTC Drugs and Labeling, Susan Crane. Susan specializes in quality and regulatory compliance for over-the-counter (OTC) and dietary supplement products. She has a thorough knowledge of federal regulations pertaining to the marketing, labeling, and distribution of OTC drugs and dietary supplements.
Each month EAS chooses one question sent in by a reader of EAS-e-News. To submit your question, use the Contact Us link on our website.
Q: Why is FDA updating the OTC monograph system?
Crane: The current OTC monograph system has been in use since the 1970’s and has proven to be a lengthy and cumbersome rule-making process for finalizing, or making changes to the monographs. Several monographs have been in the “Tentative Final” stage for 40 years, while hundreds of active ingredients still lack FDA determination as to their safety and effectiveness. The FDA simply lacks the resources to manage the system as it currently exists.
To address the problem, the FDA, in consultation with other stakeholders, worked with Congress to draft legislation. The resulting Over-the-Counter Drug Safety, Innovation, and Reform Act is currently moving through the legislative process with bipartisan support so is expected to pass and be signed into law, hopefully before the mid-term elections in November.
The reforms include, but are not limited to:
replacing the current rule-making process with a more efficient “administrative order” process
providing FDA with funding through a new user fee program
providing mechanisms to allow FDA to more quickly address safety issues that arise
encouraging innovation by offering exclusivity to manufacturers for new active ingredients or conditions for use
EAS is monitoring the legislation and will provide details as they become available.
This month’s Ask the Expert is answered by Senior Director for Food Consulting Services, Allen Sayler, who recently returned from the 50th session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives held in Xiamen, China where 53 countries and 32 food industry observer organizations participated. Mr. Sayler has been an active food industry representative attending various Codex Committee meetings since 1997. Each month EAS experts tackle one question sent in by readers. To ask your question, please use our Contact Us form on the website.
Question: As a small, medium or large food manufacturer, why are Codex food standards important to me? I don’t export outside of the US and I don’t use imported materials in my production.
Sayler: The adoption of Codex food standards is intended to result in a similar change to individual country food standards, so they are similar or identical to Codex standards. This will affect all US food manufacturers, even those that do not export foods to other countries.
While Codex Alimentarius standards are voluntary, all participating governments (approximately 190) have agreed that as Codex adopts food standards, member countries should start changing their food standards to reflect these internationally-recognized Codex standards. If a country like the US does not start the process of changing its food standards to be similar to the Codex standards, and another Codex member country challenges this, the dispute is resolved using the World Trade Organization’s “Dispute Settlement Body”. The loser has to either change its food standards, pay the winner a fee comparable to the lost income from not having access to the loser’s markets or agreed that some of the loser’s food exports will be blocked by the winning country(s). While US government adoption of Codex food standards has been slow, over time, it is likely that US food standards will be changed.
Background Information: The Codex Alimentarius Commission, (meaning “Food Code” in Latin), is a United Nations-supported organization that develops food standards, guidelines, and operational principles in order to protect consumer health and facilitate international trade. These documents range from food quality and safety requirements, pesticide, and vet. drug residues, food additives, food hygiene, food contaminants, labeling as well as new food standards for fruits and vegetables, seafood, dairy products, etc. All Codex documents are intended to be scientifically-based in order to protect the health of those consuming the food. Specific country and regional standards, preferences and non-scientific requirements are not intended to override applicable Codex standards.
Using the recent Codex Committee on Food Additive meeting in China as an example, over 500 new food additive provisions were adopted while another 200 were blocked from adoption or removed from the Codex General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA). In addition, all food additives in the various Codex food standards are being methodically moved into the GSFA, which means some of importance to the food manufacturing industry may be dropped or maximum use level changed. Differences in each country’s food additive regulations are one of the primary reasons for blocking food imports.
There are many examples where Codex standards have been adopted as the national standard of food safety and policy, and even more examples where exporting countries have found that adoption of Codex standards to be a key to success due to its reference in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements. Countries that wish to adopt Codex standards as their own national standard may receive support in doing so. The important work of the Codex Commission has created a greater worldwide awareness of food safety, quality, and consumer protection issues.
This month’s Ask the Expert is answered by Independent Consultant, Kathy Knutson, Ph.D. Kathy is a lead instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF); Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) and trained in the prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). Each month EAS experts tackle one question sent in by readers. To ask your question, click here.
Question: How can implementing a GMP system for regulatory compliance also streamline business at a cannabis facility?
Knutson:I am a food microbiologist with expertise in food safety. I work with the food industry in writing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and food safety plans. I find myself using the same food safety knowledge from the food industry, in the cannabis-infused edibles industry. It makes sense because it is all just food that must be manufactured and be safe for human consumption. Unlike the food industry, currently, there is no federal legislation for the cannabis industry. At the federal level, cannabis is illegal.
Manufacturers of cannabis-infused edibles are legally found in states where legislation has been passed at the state level for either medical or recreational cannabis. It could be argued that edibles sold by way of prescription for medical use need to have a higher level of rigor in food safety than an edible for recreational use. In some states, the manufacturers are inspected like a restaurant. There is the talk of HACCP, but many states are just not there yet. The cannabis industry would do well to learn lessons from the food industry on HACCP from the late 1950s and preventive controls from 2011. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) must be instituted, before making the leap to HACCP or preventive controls. GMPs are the foundation of HACCP and preventive controls. Without GMPs, there is no food safety.
Manufacturers of cannabis-infused edibles can find GMPs in 21 CFR 117 Part B. This is the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule where much of the food industry lives. A quick search for information on GMPs leaves one overwhelmed. There are university extension specialists, HACCP organizations and private businesses which offer GMP training. As a valued partner of EAS Consulting Group, the many experts are here to show you the path to food safety. Like a start-up company in the food industry, manufacturers of cannabis-infused edibles would be wise to start with GMPs. Once the foundation is solid, the manufacturer can build food safety.
This month’s Ask the Expert question on Serious Adverse Events Reporting is answered by Independent Consultant, Norma Skolnik. Norma has over 35 years of regulatory experience working with the pharmaceutical, OTC drug, and dietary supplement industries. Prior to consulting, she served as Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Americas for Cadbury Adams until her retirement. She also held the positions of Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Adams Division of Pfizer and Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Warner-Lambert company.
Question: Should you report an Adverse Event if you’re not sure whether or not it’s really “serious”?
Answer: If in doubt, you should always report an adverse event for any prescription drug, OTC drug or dietary supplement. FDA’s definition of “Serious Adverse Event” per 21 CFR 310.305(b) covers “any adverse experience that results in any of the following outcomes: Death, a life-threatening adverse experience, hospitalization, a persistent or significant disability/incapacity, or a congenital anomaly/birth defect.”However, Emergency Room treatment is also often considered to be a serious event and usually reported to the FDA. Furthermore, if a consumer believes an event to be serious, it must be investigated and most likely reported. Many companies are reluctant to report because they’re afraid that submission of a Serious Adverse Event report via the required MedWatch (3500A) form is an admission that your product caused the adverse event but this is not the case.
EAS is pleased to introduce a new column in our EAS-e-News called Ask the Expert. Each month our expert consultants and Senior Directors will answer one question sent in by readers (edited if applicable to remove identifying information). If you’d like to submit a question, please use the “contact us” link on our website.
This month’s Ask the Expert question is on training requirements in a manufacturing facility is answered by EAS Independent Consultant, Karen Dixon.
Karen has a strong focus on the development and implementation of FDA readiness programs including processes, compliance considerations, and integration within all levels of an organization. Her unique combination of expertise in operations, training systems, finance, product quality, Quality Management Systems, regulatory affairs, and ISO-9001-2015 makes her a valuable asset to EAS clients. She has held positions such as Manager, Quality Management System at Altria and Philip Morris USA and is a Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) with the American Society for Quality.
Question: How can I ensure our company offers effective training for all levels of employees at our manufacturing facility?
Dixon: In an FDA regulated manufacturing environment, the importance of a solid training program is critical to meeting your quality system requirements. Most manufacturing companies are faced with ‘doing more with less’ and often training is a burden. There are several solutions that can address training efficiencies and enhance the overall knowledge base of your employees. After all, your employees are your most important asset.
First, no training program should be one-size fits all program. Your procedure/process should be designed for flexibility in training delivery while ensuring you meet critical requirements. Developing a level or class system within your training SOP will aid the manufacturing process when there are competing opportunities. For example, a level 1 could be defined as the employees’ immediate job function and the work instructions associated with it. Level 2 would be your ‘read to understand’ material, and/or quality procedures designed for understanding. Level 3 training could be those materials and/or courses developed to enhance employees’ capability, i.e. business writing classes. This categorization would allow the firm to focus priority. Training an employee in their immediate process in order to produce a quality product is more pressing than a continuing education class for example.
For your infrastructure, implement a training procedure with these requirements clearly defined.
Type of training (Level 1, 2, 3)
Platform (i.e., computer-based, classroom, on-the-job or read-to-understand)
Record keeping requirement (roster, training assessment)
It is important to remember that the FDA Inspector will want to see evidence that an employee has been provided the appropriate training for the tasks they are performing; therefore, good documentation is imperative. There are a number of training options, of course. One is a “canned” Learning Management Systems (LMS). Another is attending public courses to meet your training requirements. Depending on the topic, some public courses have been vetted and certified to offer continuing education units (such as EAS Consulting Group’s Food Labeling Compliance Seminar), others, though not providing specific CEUs meet the training requirements required by FDA, (such as EAS’ Dietary Supplement Good Manufacturing Practices Seminar). Still, a third option is to bring outside trainers into your facility to provide a customized approach to your specific business and training needs. Customized programs offer an opportunity to bring in experts familiar with your type of business as well as the federal, state and industry regulations with which you must comply so that those in-house programs developed to meet your needs exactly.
Steps to Achieving Effective Manufacturing Training
No matter the type of learning environment, online, public or in-house, there are some basic steps needed to achieve optimum adult learning:
Here are a few points to consider about each step:
Design: During this phase of development, you should focus on the need for the training or conducting a ‘needs analysis’. Considering the business goals or metrics behind the topic of the training. Create clear learning objectives to uncover topics that are influencing the training.
Develop: Points to consider under development: 1) stay true to the plan developed during the Design phase, don’t drift into another topic or focus area, 2) Gather credible sources of information for the training. Use facts, input from Subject Matter Experts, and guidance from seasoned employees.
Deliver: Consider your audience through a leaner-centric approach. Delivering learner-centric material means you are delivering to adult learners who learn very differently than adolescents. Clients should consider investing in a full-time training developer who has been trained in adult learning principles. Most clients already have an employee or employees dedicated to training, even as part of a job. There are many inexpensive courses available that would enhance their ability on understanding adult learning. Investing in a two to the three-day course would bring a return on investment quickly.
Evaluate / Continuous Improvement: Your training program will never be complete. Continuously evaluating the health of your program through metrics is important. Whether it is a simple measure of percent complete trained, evaluation of non-conforming product incidents, or waste percentages there is always a way to measure the health of your training program. Revisit your initial training material and improve as needed.
To learn more about training design and developing a flexible training program, contact EAS Consulting Group. Our independent consultants can provide a perspective your company needs to ensure processes and procedures are accurately in place to support full compliance with current and future FDA requirements while also providing counsel on how your infrastructure can work for you in meeting production goals.
EAS is pleased to introduce a new column in our EAS-e-News called Ask the Expert. Each month our expert consultants and Senior Directors will answer one question sent in by readers (edited if applicable to remove identifying information). If you’d like to submit a question, please use the “contact us” link on our website.
This month’s question answered by Tara Lin Couch, Ph.D., Senior Director for Dietary Supplement and Tobacco Services and the topic is whether there is a crossover between ISO certifications and GMPs in the laboratory.
Question:If a contract Laboratory is ISO certified, can we bypass an onsite audit if we incorporate this statement in our SOPs?
Couch: Absolutely not, ISO certification does not equal GMP compliance. I have seen many labs that are ISO certified and have terrible GMP compliance. Remember, ISO 17025 is not looking at the whole lab, it is looking at a specific test method or operation. It will dictate that the lab can run a particular test, Vitamin C for example, or operate a balance, but does not look at the entire laboratory quality systems. There are certain things that are covered in GMPs that are not covered in ISO, OOS (Out of Specifications) investigations would be one of those. OOS investigations should be conducted in accordance with the FDA, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), Guidance for Industry: Out of Specification (OOS) Test Results for Pharmaceutical Production, issued in October of 2006. In this guidance, the FDA states that an investigation must be thorough, timely, unbiased, well-documented, and scientifically sound to be meaningful. There is a quality manual requirement in ISO 17025 that touches on investigations, but it is not near the level of detail that you would find in a GMP environment.
EAS is pleased to introduce a new column in our EAS-e-News called Ask the Expert. Each month our expert consultants will answer one question sent in by readers. If you’d like to submit a question, please use the Contact Us link on our website.
Today’s question is answered by Allen Sayler, EAS’ Senior Director for Food Consulting Services and pertains to testing of Listeria species or monocytogenes. This question was asked at our recent webinar focusing on Listeria and the full list of questions asked by webinar participants as well as their responses are provided here.
Question: Is it recommended to test for Listeria species or monocytogenes for all four environmental monitoring zones as well as a finished product for RTE foods?
Sayler: It is not practical or financially possible to establish a finished product testing protocol for RTE foods that is statistically valid. Therefore, a limited finished product testing program that describes taking at least one sample for each day’s production or for each production lot would provide an adequate finished product testing program. It is our opinion that for those processing environments that are associated with moist conditions or the use of water for cleaning the floors, outside of processing equipment, etc.; an environmental monitoring program should be based on detecting Listeria species, with swabbing concentrated on Zone 3 (floors, walls, door knobs, floor drains). Zone 2 should only be included if there are a positive Zone 3 swab and a vectoring strategy implemented to identify the true source. For relatively dry processing environments, it is recommended that Salmonella be the choice for detection of environmental contamination. It is strongly recommended that ATP swabbing is utilized on clean and dry FCS (Zone #1). A calibrated ATP system can provide results within 1 minute and allow the sanitation crew to reclean and re-swab the FCS to ensure it has been effectively cleaned. This approach is “preventive” versus environmental swabbing and testing of Zone #1, which can take up to 48 hours to get results as well as a similar delay it obtaining results for finished product testing for the presence of L. mono. or Salmonella. Microbial testing of Zone #1 and the finished product is “reactive”, not preventive.
EAS Webinar on FDA Draft Guidance: “Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods: Guidance for Industry” October 31, 2017
EAS received an overwhelming response to our recent webinar on controlling Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. As a service to the industry, we thought it would be helpful to provide some of the questions generated by webinar participants answered by EAS Senior Director for Food Consulting Services, Allen Sayler. Please understand that these responses do not constitute consulting advice. Should you have questions or require clarification based on your own company’s situation, please reach out to Allen at email@example.com.
Webinar Participant Questions & Answers:
Can comprehensive, high sample rate finished product testing be used in place of FCS swabs? Answer: Unless the finished product testing protocol is statistically valid, it is strongly recommended that ATP swabbing is utilized on clean and dry FCS. A calibrated ATP system can provide results within 1 minute and allow the sanitation crew to reclean and re-swab the FCS to ensure it has been effectively cleaned. This approach is “preventive” versus a finished product sampling plan which is “reactive”.
What do you recommend for a processing plant that produces RTE foods but during processing, there is no exposure to the environment, prior to packaging? Such as our products are in an enclosed system from Raw Material tank to Mixing tanks and to Finished Good tank. Is 21 CFR 117.130 (c)(1)(ii) fully applied?Answer: 21 CFR 117.130 (c) (1)(ii) states the following:“The hazard evaluation required by paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section must include an evaluation of environmental pathogens whenever a ready-to-eat food is exposed to the environment prior to packaging and the packaged food does not receive a treatment or otherwise include a control measure (such as a formulation lethal to the pathogen) that would significantly minimize the pathogen.” We are of the opinion that all food processing plants, regardless of whether the product is protected from the environment prior to packaging, need some type of environmental monitoring program.
Is there guidance on what “exposed to the environment” means? What about products that are processed in closed system post killing step, then packaged? Answer: The phrase “exposed to the environment” needs to be taken intuitively. However, based on the answer to #2 above, it is not necessary to “dial-in” term “exposed to the environment” as we are of the opinion every food processing plant should have an environmental monitoring program.
Is the recommendation to test Listeria species or monocytogenes for all four zones and finished product testing for RTE foods? Answer: It is not practical or financially possible to establish a finished product testing protocol for RTE foods that is statistically valid. Therefore, a limited finished product testing program that describes taking at least one sample for each days’ production or for each production lot would provide an adequate finished product testing program. It is our opinion that for those processing environments that are associated with moist conditions or the use of water for cleaning the floors, outside of processing equipment, etc.; an environmental monitoring program should be based on detecting Listeria species, with swabbing concentrated on Zone 3 (floors, walls, door knobs, floor drains). Zone 2 should only be included if there is a positive Zone 3 swab and there is need to use vectoring to identify the true source. For relatively dry processing environments, it is recommended that Salmonella be the choice for detection of environmental contamination. It is strongly recommended that ATP swabbing is utilized on clean and dry FCS (Zone #1). A calibrated ATP system can provide results within 1 minute and allow the sanitation crew to reclean and re-swab the FCS to ensure it has been effectively cleaned. This approach is “preventive” versus a finished product sampling plan which is “reactive”.
Is there a good number of vector sponges to take when finding a Listeria hit? Answer: The simple answer is enough to identify the true source of any positive environmental swab, particularly if the positive was found in a floor drain or on a floor source. Some industry “vectoring” plans take swabs at pre-set distances from the source in quadrants. An example might be 5 feet intervals at 0°, 90°, 180°, and 270°. These samples will provide information on the best direction to continue to gather environmental swabs to identify the true source of the environmental contamination.
When an FCS is tested for Listeria, is the recommendation still that all finished product be placed on hold until a negative test result is confirmed? (For all finished product from the production run in progress when FCS testing was performed). Answer: While there is no requirement by FDA, it is common industry practice that whenever any FCS is tested for Listeria(species or monocytogenes), finished products that contain anything that came into contact with the tested FCS be put on hold until such time as the results of the swabbing are known. If such product were to be released to customers or consumers and the FCS swabbing came back positive for Listeria, then an immediate Class I recall with a public press release would be the likely outcome. Utilizing ATP swabbing technology is a much more effective way to routinely detect and correct unclean FCS.
What would you recommend that facilities producing RTE products with a short shelf life (produce, packaged salad kits, etc.) approach Zone 1 testing?Answer: See the answers to #1, #4 & #6. It is our opinion that there should be no direct environmental swabbing of Zone 1 for Listeria or any other human pathogen. ATP technologies work much better and provide an almost immediate feedback so the unclean FCS can be recleaned and sanitized prior to any contact with food ingredients, food packaging or the food itself.
Do these new guidelines apply to frozen vegetables? Answer: In Section III of the draft Guidance document, any process (freezing) needs to be validated to determine whether there is a listeristatic or listericidal effect that will demonstrate that the food is not adulterated. While frozen vegetables originate from fresh produce covered by the FDA FSMA Produce Safety regulation, microbiologically, the Listeria bacteria is not killed by freezing but does not reproduce (listeristatic). Once frozen vegetables contaminated with Listeria is thawed, Listeria starts to grow and become a human health threat so yes, the FDA draft Guidance would also apply to frozen vegetables. On page 32 of the draft guidance, it states the following, “Many foods are stored in a frozen state – e.g., to extend shelf life before retail sale or as a product available to consumers in the frozen state. L. monocytogenes does not grow at temperatures below freezing (Ref. 12 and Ref. 13). Therefore, freezing is a particularly effective temperature control measure to prevent growth during storage. Freezing will not eliminate L. monocytogenes from foods and cannot be relied upon as a control measure for the elimination or reduction of Listeria monocytogenes.”
How does FDA define finding Listeria spp or L. mono. “on occasion?” In other words, what is “too high” a rate of detection. Answer: We are not aware of any FDA-based numerical definition of finding Listeria “on occasion”, or what is “too high” a rate of detection of Listeria in environmental swabs. Of much more importance to FDA and to customers and consumers in general, is the corrective action follow-up and root cause analysis conducted to identify the true cause of the positive Listeria swab and adjust manufacturing operations to eliminate the real source of the contamination.
What is the FDA expectation of Listeria levels in a plant? Answer: We are not aware of any FDA-based numerical expectation of what might be an “acceptable” number of Listeria swabs being positive versus negative. What is of more importance is the frequency of re-occurrence and response to positive samples. If the same swabbing location was positive for Listeria every other month for 6 months, then that indicates a failure to identify the true root cause. We are aware of an unpublished and non-scientific practice where more than 3 positive in 100 samples, regardless of location, may indicate a more thorough corrective action effort is needed. It is very important that all environmental monitoring results be incorporated into some type of trend analysis to determine if patterns of positive results exist that need additional attention.
How does the FDA Draft Lm Guidance relate to the FDA Food Code and application in the retail grocery environment? Answer: All FDA guidance documents represent FDA’s current thinking on a topic. Many times, this guidance is intended to clarify the section of an FDA law or regulation. The draft guidance specifically states that it is not intended to be applicable to retail food operations. The Retail Food Code (applicable to grocery stores and restaurants) is utilized by FDA to provide the requirements for retail food operations. It is essentially a Public Health Code or model, not an FDA law or regulation, intended for adoption by states, counties and local governments. Modification of the Retail Food Code must be done through submittal of proposals to the Conference on Food Protection, which meets approximately once every two (2) years to consider new proposals.
What is the FDA perspective on the risk associated with finding L. monocytogenes in the environment in raw vs. RTE areas? Answer: We are of the opinion that FDA is utilizing a positive environmental swab result for L. monocytogenes in “raw” areas of the processing facility as evidence that this source could find its way into the RTE areas of the processing operations. They are very likely to intensify their efforts to identify L. monocytogenes in RTE areas. If none is found, FDA is likely at a minimum to note the positive L. monocytogenes result in their Form FDA 483 observations.
Is FDA focusing in finding Listeria in raw areas, while using Whole Genome Sequencing, even if processing facilities have implemented adequate raw-RTE separation and controls? Answer: FDA is utilizing pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), multiple locus variable number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA), and whole genome sequencing (WGS) as the main tools for the PulseNet’s fingerprinting of food pathogens. It is our understanding that all positive environmental swabs that detect a foodborne human pathogen are analyzed using PFGE at a minimum, regardless of the location of the swabbing.
Does the guidance doc require zone 1 sampling 3-4 hours into production? Or is that for zone 2 and 3? If it is zone 1, what kind of swabbing is required? Listeria spp? or L. mono.? Answer: An FDA Guidance document cannot “require” anything, but as stated in the answer to #11 above, it is the Agency’s most current views. FDA field investigators are not authorized to enforce any FDA Guidance documents but can use the information in such document as a benchmark to measure whether the industry is taking reasonable precautions to ensure their food is safe. On page 37 of the draft guidance, there is a reference to taking environmental samples 3 – 4 hours after the start of production. On page 36 of the draft guidance, it states, “We recommend that even the smallest processors collect samples from at least 5 sites of FCS and 5 sites of non-FCS on each production line for RTE foods. We recommend that larger processors determine the appropriate number of sampling sites based on the size of the plant.”It is our opinion based on answers to previous questions, that any environmental swabbing is conducted primarily on Zones 3 for the detection of Listeria species. This is not the recommendations from FDA found in the draft Guidance document, which states on page 37,
Collect environmental samples from specific FCSs on the production lines at least once every week when the plant is in operation; and
Test each FCS in the plant at least once each month.
Does the recommendation to test Zone 1 for Listeria apply to high-risk foods only? Do you expect Zone 1 to be tested in low moisture/Aw food plants? Answer: Based on the current statements in the draft Guidance, FDA appears to be making no differentiation between low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk foods regarding the recommendation to gather environmental swabs for FCS (Zone 1).
What is more powerful? Testing finished product based on ICMSF N=20 or more samples or zone 1 testing (but not test finished products)?Answer: A Zone 1 (FCS) positive test for L. monocytogenes should be considered the same as a positive finished product test. It is our opinion that the preferred testing program for RTE food manufacturers focuses on environmental testing as a means to implement preventive controls rather than finished product testing, which is a reactive approach. Sampling should consist of:
A credible number of environmental swabs taken primarily in Zone 3, and
Effective corrective actions including additional environmental samples and vectoring for any positive environmental samples, and
Utilization of ATP swabbing at every production start-up on a representative number of FCS and immediate recleaning if the calibrated ATP result is “positive”, and
Accumulating a set of retailed finished product samples (one from each production lot) and storing these to the end of the shelf life of the finished product, and
Test a minimum number of finished product samples (one per production run or production day) for foodborne pathogens, which for most foods would be L. monocytogenes and for dry foods, Salmonella.