The Top Food Safety and Regulatory Issues of 2017

Former FDA associate commissioner for foods looks back at 'swab-a-thons,' FSMA, GFSI and politics.

By David Acheson of the Acheson Group

It’s always interesting to take a look back on the year and think about the events and issues that were of the greatest significance. But it’s even more interesting to look back and see what others saw as most significant. And that’s exactly what we are doing here – taking a look at what readers of The Acheson Group Blog found to be the most significant – or read-worthy – of 2017.

To determine those, we compiled a list of most-read articles – the Top 17 of ’17 – then grouped these into general topics. What we found was that our readers were most interested in anything to do with Listeria and its environmental monitoring and control. Running a close second were articles on regulations (particularly the Food Safety Modernization Act, FSMA) and standards (like the Global Food Safety Initiative, GFSI). There was then a bit of a jump to the next grouping, articles on the U.S. and international political scenes.

So let’s take a look back at the top issues of the year:

  • Listeria Monocytogenes and Environmental Monitoring. In January of 2017, FDA passed “Draft Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods.” Between that and the agency’s implementation of Preventive Controls inspections, the phrase “swab-a-thons” has become an industry buzzword.

FDA is swabbing surfaces – at a seemingly frenetic pace of 150 to 200 microbiological samples per facility across all zones. And if samples come back positive, FDA is issuing 483s [a form letter noting the observation of conditions that may violate the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and related food safety regulations]. To assist food facilities in conducting your own environmental monitoring and testing – including the pros and cons of whole genome sequencing (WGS), and to detail some control solutions – we wrote about Listeria in some way in more than half the newsletters of 2017.

  • Regulation and Standards. FSMA and GFSI tend to draw in readers, almost regardless of what is discussed in these areas. It’s not really a surprise – FSMA is finally (almost completely) in play for all but some very small facilities, and many customers require GFSI of their food suppliers. Thus, both are dominant forces for food facilities. But because those aren’t the only regulatory/standards factors of the industry, we also found that other regulatory issues – such as those of USDA and labeling – held high interest.
  • Government and Politics. We don’t tend to write many articles of a political nature, but those that include even a remote focus on the impacts of government and politics do seem to be of interest. Again, it’s not a surprise with the industry under the thumb of agencies which generally lack the resources for full implementation of the regulations that are imposed; the Office of Inspector General blasting these agencies several times over inadequacies; and the continued threats of regulatory hurdles in the U.S. that negatively impact food safety and cause “filthy food” headlines.
  • International Issues. Despite the current U.S. trend toward isolationism, it is a global world in which we live, and a global supply chain in which food facilities must operate. As such, international supply and regulation – particularly those of our neighbor to the north – are of critical importance, and are areas on which we keep a close eye throughout the year. Of particular interest, we wrote about “Canada’s Proposed Food Safety Rule: What It Means for You” and “Imported Fish and Produce Becoming Increasingly Risky.”

Next month, David Acheson will look into his regulatory crystal ball and divine the eight top food safety issues for the new year. Despite its maturity, the Food Safety Modernization Act remains high on his list (with some 2018 compliance deadlines). New Canadian food safety regulations will start taking effect, and he also sees more supply chain involvement in recalls.

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