The Food Safety Modernization Act originated from “bad PR” for the food industry and will require meticulous and accessible record-keeping by food and beverage processors. More...

The Food Safety Modernization Act originated from “bad PR” for the food industry and will require, at the least, meticulous and accessible record-keeping by food and beverage processors, a lawyer told a recent PMMI gathering.

Speaking at the PMMI Leadership Conference in the Intercontinental Hotel in Rosemont, Ill., Anthony Pavel of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm K&L Gates LLC discussed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Signed into law early this year by President Obama, the bill was at least in part a reaction to a series of high-profile food recalls over the last few years, Pavel said.

“The basic reason for this is the agencies felt that industry was not doing enough to prevent some of these food recalls and food scares,” he said. “It’s basically counteracting some of the bad PR that the food industry has had in the last five or six years.”

The FSMA’s effects are hard to gauge at this point, mostly because of the law’s complexity. It will take three to four years to fully implement the law, Pavel said: “The law is a skeleton, and then the rule-making, the regulations and the guidance, are what put the meat onto those bones.”

Certain aspects of the FSMA, including giving the Food and Drug Administration the authority to recall tainted product and giving federal authorities access to records, went into effect immediately, Pavel said. Other, more complex provisions will take time. The mandate for food plants to institute a HACCP-like safety system will only take place after regulations are put into place and pass a comment period of at least 180 days. Traceability requirements will need a pilot program within 270 days after they’re established.

Record-keeping will be a universal requirement. “What you can expect this to mean is that when the inspectors come in, they’re going to come in with the mindset that we can look at every single piece of paper and/or file in your facility,” Pavel said.

One wild card in the FSMA is whether there will be money to implement it. The FSMA calls for a big increase in the number of federal inspectors, but Congress is struggling with budget cuts, agencies have a hiring freeze and everyone is proposing cuts, Pavel said.