During this Season of Giving, The Kroger Co. is donating 30 million meals to local food banks and providing simple donation opportunities for customers and associates who shop and work at its family of stores.
“Kroger has a proud history of feeding hungry neighbors in our communities and a rich tradition of bringing help and hope for the holidays,” said Lynn Marmer, Kroger’s Group Vice President of Corporate Affairs. “We invite our customers, associates and communities to join in our Season of Giving by supporting their local food banks as well as The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign in our stores this holiday season.”
Feeding Hungry Neighbors
As a founding partner of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger agency, Kroger has been engaged in the hunger relief effort for more than 30 years. Today the Kroger family of stores works directly with more than 100 local food banks. Our customers and associates are partners in this commitment. In 2013, nearly $7 million was generated at Kroger’s family of stores to help feed local families during the holidays.
This holiday season, customers can help, again, thanks to a variety of simple donation opportunities in stores. Customers are encouraged to visit www.BringingHopetotheTable.com where they can simply enter their zip code to learn how their stores will make it easy for them to support their neighbors in need.
Supporting The Salvation Army
Customers should look for The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettles at the Kroger family of stores from the day after Thanksgiving untilChristmas Eve. Each year, customers and associates generously support The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign that provides food, clothing, toys and social services in the communities where funds are raised.
In 2013, Kroger customers and associates contributed $13.5 million to the campaign, which represents 10 percent of the total raised nationwide. All funds collected are used locally in the community where the donations are raised. The Red Kettle Campaign enables The Salvation Army to assist 30 million Americans in more than 5,000 communities across the country. Since 2007, more than $85 million has been raised at Kroger family stores.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a step to help consumers make informed food selections with two new rules that require calorie information to be listed on menus in chain restaurants. The new rules will apply to prepared food offered in supermarkets, according to the New York Times, and to convenience stores that belong to chains with more than 20 locations, according to NACS, a trade association representing convenience stores, which objected to the rule on the grounds that Congress’ intention for the menu labeling requirement was that the rule should apply only to restaurants.
“The FDA has clearly gone beyond congressional intent by expanding the types of businesses that fall under this law to include convenience stores,” said Lyle Beckwith, Senior Vice President for Government Relations for NACS, according to CSPnet.com. “The one-size-fits-all approach that FDA announced today would treat convenience stores as though they are restaurants, when in fact they operate very differently. It is now up to the bipartisan, bicameral opponents of this regulatory overreach to enact legislation introduced in both houses of Congress that reasonably defines a restaurant as a business that derives at least 50 percent of revenue from prepared food.”
The final rules come after FDA considered more than 1,100 comments submitted to the agency and on the heels of new research illustrating the benefits of calorie labeling for consumers. The menu labeling final rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items.
Covered food establishments will be required to clearly and conspicuously display calorie information for standard items on menus and menu boards, next to the name or price of the item. Seasonal menu items offered for sale as temporary menu items, daily specials and condiments for general use typically available on a counter or table are exempt from the labeling requirements.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD in a press release. “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”
Some states, localities and various large restaurant chains are already doing their own forms of menu labeling. The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, the law establishing nutrition labeling on most foods, did not cover nutrition labeling for restaurants and other ready-to-eat foods. In the years that followed, states and cities created their own labeling requirements for such foods. These federal standards will help avoid situations in which a chain restaurant subject to the federal requirements has to meet different requirements in different states.
The FDA considered more than 1,100 comments from stakeholders and consumers in developing these rules. In response to comments, the FDA narrowed the scope of foods covered by the rule to more clearly focus on restaurant-type food, made other adjustments such as ensuring the flexibility for multi-serving dishes like pizza to be labeled by the slice rather than as a whole pie, and provided establishments additional time to comply with the rule.
In addition, the menu labeling final rule now includes certain alcoholic beverages served in covered food establishments and listed on the menu, but still provides flexibility in how establishments meet this provision. The majority of comments supported including alcohol because of the impact on public health. The menu labeling rule also includes food facilities in entertainment venue chains such as movie theaters and amusement parks.
Restaurants and similar retail food establishments will have one year to comply with the menu labeling requirements.
To help consumers understand the significance of the calorie information in the context of a total daily diet, under the rule, menus and menu boards will include the statement:
“2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”
The menu labeling final rule also requires covered establishments to provide, upon consumer request and as noted on menus and menu boards, written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.
The vending machine final rule requires operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie information for food sold from vending machines, subject to certain exceptions. Vending machine operators will have two years to comply with the requirements.
The True Source Honey Certification™ Program, whose mission it is to protect consumers, retailers and manufacturers from illegally sourced honey, has issued an alert concerning honey labeled as coming from Turkey.
“We advise honey importers, retailers and manufacturers to proceed carefully and consider additional safeguards if they are buying low-priced honey labeled as produced in Turkey,” said True Source Honey Executive Director Gordon Marks.
The United States has had repeated problems with honey that is illegally shipped from China to avoid anti-dumping duties. The quality and purity of this honey is also suspect since it is not sold according to regular protocols. Such honey has often been shipped through – and labeled as produced within – a country other than China. This illegal practice threatens the U.S. honey industry by undercutting fair market prices and damaging honey’s reputation for quality and safety.
True Source is flagging Turkey due to increasing amounts of honey being shipped from that country at well below market prices. This trend is similar to that observed in past circumvention schemes.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. imported more than four million pounds of honey from Turkey in 2013, or about one percent of the volume Americans consume each year. This volume from Turkey has increased almost 10-fold in three years. More importantly, Turkish honey that is exported to the United States is valued at $1.27 per pound when traded into the U.S. (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census) and at $2.13 per pound when traded into the European Union (2014 YTD, Eurostat). Such a significant discrepancy in price based upon destination rather than origin is uncommon in the international honey market. U.S.-produced white honey is trading at $2.08 per pound, according to the most recently available data from USDA (September 2014).
“The leading indicator for circumvented Chinese honey is honey traded on the international market at rates substantially below the prevalent market value,” said Marks.
Marks also noted that U.S. companies should be aware of the risk of prosecution for customs fraud if circumstances indicate that they purchased honey knowing it had been illegally imported. Recent federal court cases (USAA Northern District of Illinois Press Release,February 20, 2013) suggest the federal government now expects that all U.S. users and distributors of honey imports have already implemented and are maintaining rigorous supply chain audit and inspection procedures as a matter of course.
A number of nations have been implicated in past circumvention schemes. In a 2013 press release associated with charges against two large U.S. packers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Illinois, noted, “The honey was variously described falsely as sugars and syrups instead of Chinese-origin honey, and or as pure honey having originated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam, instead of China.”
The True Source Honey Certification Program is an industry-supported, voluntary program established to combat the problem of illegally shipped honey. To date, there are no Turkish exporters that are True Source Certified. The program, which uses an independent third-party audit system, has been applauded by U.S. beekeepers and honey industry leadership because it provides traceability from hive to table, helping ensure the food safety and security of the honey used in North America. Companies that are True Source Certified now represent about one-third of honey sold in North America.
“Honey packers and importers that become True Source Certified are held to the highest sourcing standards – verified by outside auditors to ensure that all honey purchases are openly declared and that no illegally circumvented Chinese honey enters their supply chain,” said Marks.
The True Source Certified™ logo on honey packages ensures that honey has been independently certified. Further information, including a search function to check honey products, can be found at www.TrueSourceHoney.com.
Oregon Growers has recently launched with a new proprietary jar as well as a new cap and updated label. “While the original jar and label has served us well for the past 10 years, we felt that it was time for an update,” says Dave Gee, Oregon Growers founding partner. The new cap features a picturesque drawing of the Hood River valley, where much of the fruit is sourced directly from family farmers, and Mt Hood in the background. The new label retains the familiar mural and hand-drawn fruit, but has an updated logo and additional product attributes. “While the packaging has grown up as we approach our 10th year in business, the product that we make remains the same premium quality that you have come to expect from Oregon Growers,” says Gee. Retailers should expect to see the new look rolling out this month, with Bristol Farms in southern California launching in November with the new look.
The winner of the third annual Comté Scholarship for American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professionals™ (ACS CCPs™) has been announced. Leslie Uhl, Cheesemonger and Business Specialist for Di Bruno Bros in Philadelphia, scored the highest points in the blind essay contest and has won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Comté region to explore the area and its culture and to learn about production and the cheese’s history.
Uhl began her professional career as a cheesemonger three years ago and became an ACS CCP in September. “Winning this scholarship is easily the most exciting news I’ve had all year, second only to the news of passing the ACS CCP exam!” she said. “I’m so thrilled to be a part of a new adventure, and I can’t wait to be at the heart of French cheese making in the Comté region.”
Second place went to Tara Harmon, Associate Team Leader at Whole Foods Market in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, who will receive a special Comté care package.
This year’s essay question focused on the importance of preserving traditional methods of cheese production and explored how Comté’s PDO specifications ensure a link between terroir and flavor. The essays were judged anonymously on the basis of knowledge and creativity by a panel of three renowned cheese experts: Greg O’Neill, Owner of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine and Former Board President of the American Cheese Society; Cathy Strange, Global Cheese Buyer, Whole Foods Market, Inc.; and Max McCalman, Maître Fromager, Author, Speaker, Consultant and Educator. Uhl’s winning essay can be viewed here.
The Certified Cheese Professional™ (CCP) Exam was established by the American Cheese Society in 2012 to encourage high standards of comprehensive cheese knowledge and service for professionals in all areas of the cheese world. The exam is based on the knowledge and skills required to successfully perform cheese-related tasks in jobs across the board.
Made exclusively in the Jura Mountain region of France, Comté is an artisanal cheese with AOC (Controlled Appellation of Origin) and PDO (European Protected Denomination of Origin) designations. Each wheel of Comté reflects a unique terroir, a season of production, and centuries of cheesemaking and affinage traditions.
By David Bernard
Sometimes free-range eggs are not really so free range after all. While the growing specialty egg industry has advanced animal welfare and supplied retailers with more nutritious, flavorful eggs to sell, it has also misled at times, and there continues to be confusion among consumers over the various types of eggs. With no legal standards as to what constitutes most of the main types of specialty eggs, including free-range, cage-free and pasture-raised, retailers can end up selling eggs laid by hens that are not treated as well as one might think.
The term “free-range” is generally taken to mean that hens have access to the outdoors. It does not necessarily mean, however, that the bird actually goes outdoors. “Free range often means there is just a small hole allowing passage from indoors to outdoors,” said Dan Brooks, Director of Marketing and Communications for Vital Farms, a national specialty egg producer based in Austin, Texas. “However, the birds are often given no encouragement to go outdoors, and the small hole inherently makes it difficult for the bird to get outside. Or a producer might let the birds outside, but only for a small amount of time each day.”
For many consumers, free-range is an attractive term that conjures images of wide open spaces and grass-covered hills where hens wander freely. However, that definition more closely applies to another type of specialty egg: pasture-raised. Vital Farms, the only third-party certified national producer of pasture-raised eggs, as defined by respected verifier Certified Humane, provides 108 square feet of outdoor space per bird. In addition, the company rotates hens between areas that contain fresh grass and feed. Unlike typical commodity egg-laying hens, the company’s birds are not treated with hormones or antibiotics.
Pasture-raised eggs provide a wealth of benefits for consumers. Compared to commodity eggs from caged hens, pasture-raised eggs have been demonstrated to provide more vitamin D (four times the amount), beta carotene (seven times), vitamin E (three times) and vitamin A (66 percent more). They may also contain 33 percent less cholesterol and 25 percent less saturated fat. According to Brooks, pasture-raised eggs taste better as well. “We get so many emails from customers where they say, ‘Thank you. This is the best egg I’ve ever tasted,’” he said.
In addition to pasture-raised and free-range eggs, there are also cage-free eggs, in which hens typically live indoors in a floor-based housing or aviary system, rather than in the small, two- to-three-bird cages typical of the commodity egg industry.
Still, even within the three main categories of specialty eggs, there can be even further demarcations, such as organic and Non-GMO Project Verified eggs, as well as nutritionally fortified eggs. Through the use of specialized feed, nutritionally fortified eggs contain higher levels of one or more nutrients, such as omega fatty acids, protein, beta carotene, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate and various antioxidants. USDA organic, the only regulated category in the specialty egg industry, pertains mostly to the feed that is used to grow hens. The label means the producer uses feed that is non-GMO and has been grown or produced without the use of pesticides. Free-range and pasture-raised eggs can be certified as organic. Cage-free eggs cannot be certified in this way.
Whether it is because of the more humane treatment of hens, enhanced nutritional benefits or better flavor, consumers have spoken, boosting the specialty egg industry to roughly 10 percent of the larger $9.4 billion U.S. table egg market. This is double what the specialty egg market was just five years ago. There has been a particularly sharp increase over the last 18 months. This jump is partly due to an increase in the price of commodity eggs (attributed to higher grain prices). Now that consumers are absorbing less of a hit when they move up to specialty eggs, there appears to be a changing consumer mindset.
“Food isn’t just something that people are using for nutrition nowadays,” said Jasen Urena, Director of Specialty Eggs at NestFresh, a national specialty egg producer and distributor based in Fullerton, California. “It has actually become part of their value system. The animal welfare aspect of specialty eggs and the environmental sustainability aspect with organic and non-GMO – these are becoming hot topics to consumers. And this has caused amazing growth over the last 18 months.” According to Urena, some mass retailers on both coasts are seeing specialty eggs account for a whopping 30-35 percent of sales, up from 6-7 percent just five years ago.
NestFresh produces and distributes cage-free, free-range, pasture-raised, non-GMO and organic eggs, including nutritionally enhanced varieties, through its brands NestFresh, The Country Hen, Horizon Organic and a variety of retailer private labels. The company forgoes the use of hormones or antibiotics, as is typical of commodity egg producers. Its products are all certified as humane by several third-party verifiers.
Consumers are not the only ones driving the specialty egg trend, however, with state regulators getting into the game as well. Beginning in January, California will outlaw the use of conventional cages, although legal wrangling continues over whether the statute as written also bans larger, so-called “enriched” cages that hold 15-20 birds. Other states are considering similar laws.
While both consumer awareness and specialty egg sales are increasing, there appears to be much room for growth. At least 90 percent of domestic table eggs come from caged hens that average just 8.5 inches by 8.5 inches of living space. “Our research indicates that most consumers are simply not aware of this, and those that are do not support it,” said Jenni Danby, Marketing Director at The Happy Egg Co., a national specialty egg supplier based in San Francisco. “Consumer education is such a large part of what we do. For a bird with a 30-inch wingspan to have a space that is smaller than a piece of standard printer paper – we think consumers are entitled to know this.”
The Happy Egg Co. supplies free-range eggs from hens that do not receive antiobitics or hormones and are free to roam in grassy fields every day with at least 14 square feet of space per bird. This space allotment handily exceeds all current third-party free-range standards. The two-and-a-half-year-old company supplies over 4,000 retailers, and its products are all certified as humane by several third-party verifiers.
Some producers are finding that humane treatment of hens pays a production dividend. John Brunnquell, President of Warsaw, Indiana-based Egg Innovations has seen the benefits of moving from a commodity, caged production model to various levels of specialty production. After taking over his family’s egg farm following college, Brunnquell decided to transition to specialty eggs. “Every time we took another step forward in animal welfare, whether it was adding perches, letting the birds outside [or] expanding the outside area – every time we did this, our production went up,” he said.
Not only did Egg Innovations’ egg output increase, so did the quality. “We’ve seen deeper, darker yolks and improved shell strength, and we attribute this to a healthier bird” Brunnquell said. “Now on flavor, that’s obviously a subjective discussion, but it’s typical for consumers to come back to us and say, ‘These eggs taste different. They taste better.’” Egg Innovations is a national supplier of free-range and organic free-range eggs, including several types of nutritionally enhanced eggs. The company, which is preparing to launch a third-party certified pasture-raised egg, does not use hormones or antibiotics, and its products are certified as humane by several third-party verifiers.
By Amber Gallegos
Gift baskets make for a great presentation and can be a visual summation of the possibilities within your retail store. A gift basket does not have to be expensive to be special or rewarding for the retailer who sold the basket as well as its giver and ultimate recipient.
“[Retailers] have access in their current store to so many wonderful and delicious products and a great supply, so there’s no reason for them to not combine them and make a multiple sale instead of making a lot of individual sales,” says Shirley George Frazier of GiftBasketBusiness.com. Frazier has written two books and created a series of instructional DVDs on gift basket business and design. With her speaking engagements and business consulting, she has spent the last 24 years fully engrossed in the gift basket industry.
Frazier points to the inventory of gourmet and kitchenware retailers as cost saving in itself, since there is no need to purchase additional products to fill the baskets. Gourmet meal elements and snacks that are complementary to kitchenware are typically already at hand. Putting the gift basket together can be as simple as pairing an elegant colander with olive oil, pasta and sauce. Using the colander as the base eliminates the need for a basket as well. Just add a lovely bow for a thoughtful gift.
“Think about the products themselves that retailers have and how baskets are not a requirement, especially for those who have culinary types of products,” says Frazier. “You have the woks and the bowls for mixing, pots and pans, anything with that cavity inside of it, whether it’s shallow or deep. You’re saving money right there by not buying baskets per se.”
Frazier recommends retailers try focusing on a single kitchenware item and then adding more inexpensive edible products that fit together under a common theme. For example, pair Cuisipro’s Ice Cream Scoop and Stack with delicious sweet sauces and toppings in an ice cream bowl for an easy-to-make ice cream-themed basket.
Retailers can make their gift basket business even more budget-friendly by looking for savings on supplies. Collect the excess packaging materials that inventory arrives in. Packing paper can be wadded up to fill basket bases, and packaging shred can be reused. Cellophane that sometimes comes with packages can also be put to use again by shredding it in a regular office shredder and using it as a clear filler. Combine shredded cellophane with colored shred to instantly convey glamour.
Small touches such as a decorative bow will go a long way in terms of presentation, Frazier says. However, this too is in area where retailers can save money and time. Rather than exerting the effort making custom bows by hand or teaching staff how to do so, premade pull bows can be used for an equally dramatic effect. “Doing this will save time and keep employees … on the selling floor instead of in the back room making bows and getting frustrated,” she said. “Making gift baskets is a mostly joyous occasion and certainly it’s joyous around the holidays, so you want everyone happy, including your staff. You can allow them to be creative but not have to learn a new skill on a temporary basis.”
Since presentation is everything, place an assembled gift basket next to the cash register, on display in a window or on a shelf to let customers know that it is an option, while also attracting more business. Doing so will give customers ideas about who they might like to give one to or prompt a conversation about further options.
“Customers are looking for the wow factor in whatever they select … That’s not only for individuals, but for people who represent the corporate world,” says Frazier. “Once a representative sees a gift basket appropriate for their client, there’s a very good chance that they will want multiples of that same gift. So creating gift baskets and having them prominently on shelves, even at the cash register – if appropriate and there’s enough room – really encourages the customer and convinces them to speak with you, the retailer, about making duplicates. So that sells more inventory.”
First Nations Development Institute, a national Native American nonprofit organization that works to improve Native economies and communities, today sent its congratulations and appreciation to the Navajo Nation for passing – again – an increased sales tax on junk food sold on the reservation.
The added tax on junk food, as well as the elimination of sales taxes on healthy foods, were the key legislative priorities of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA). Both bills – together called the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014 – were passed on January 30, 2014, but only the elimination of sales taxes on healthy foods survived and was signed into law.
The first time the junk-food tax passed, it was vetoed by the Navajo Nation president. But after the Navajo Nation Council again passed the added tax last week, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has signed the legislation. With today’s signing, both bills will now be law on the Navajo Nation. Now the Navajo Nation has become the first in the country on two fronts: 1) the first to eliminate a tax on local fruits, vegetables and water, aiming to increase access to fresh and healthy foods and, 2) passed a tax on junk food, including sugary beverages sold on the reservation, with revenue aimed at supporting health and wellness programs across the Navajo reservation.
“It has taken a long time, but we applaud the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance and appreciate its persistence, patience and great effort at getting these passed and signed, in what we believe to be the first special junk-food tax in both the U.S. and Indian Country, which makes it a trailblazing precedent as we attempt to address the root causes of diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease that are particularly rampant on reservations and in other Native American communities,” said First Nations President Michael E. Roberts. “We commend DCAA and the Navajo Nation for proactively exploring legislative efforts to combat these detrimental health issues troubling Navajo and other Indian communities.”
By Lucas Witman
After receiving thousands of comments (including 15,000 unique responses to the Proposed Produce Safety Rule alone), the Food and Drug Administration recently released its Supplemental Proposed Rules for the pending Food Safety Modernization Act, and many stakeholders are still dissatisfied with how the Act is developing.
FSMA, first signed into law in 2011, was created as a mechanism for preventing foodborne illness in the United States by modernizing the regulatory framework under which both domestic and foreign food companies operating in this country are required to conform. The Act covers the establishment of mandatory preventive control standards and produce safety standards for food facilities, the mitigation of the risk of intentional contamination of the food supply and the maintenance of food importer accountability. Although lawmakers originally intended FSMA to be fully implemented just a couple of years after it was established, deadlines have been pushed back several times, and public commenting on the Act is ongoing.
After further consideration, and in response to comments it received from the public, the FDA has announced Supplemental Proposed Rules for FSMA in four key areas, including changes to the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, Preventive Controls for Human Foods, Produce Safety and Preventive Controls for Animal Food rules.
According to Clay Detlefsen, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Council for the International Dairy Foods Association, the most substantial of all FSMA rules for his industry is the Proposed Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. Detlefsen calls the rule “HACCP on steroids,” referring to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system with which food companies are currently required to comply. The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule mandates that every food facility implement a written food safety plan that details how that facility is working to eliminate potential food hazards.
The FDA received 8,000 comments on the original Proposed Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food, and as a result, it is offering several alterations. According to the FDA, one of the most frequent comments it received regarding this rule concerned the fact that farms that pack and hold their own Raw Agricultural Commodities and food facilities that simply hold RACs for other farms are erroneously subject to the same food hazard requirements. Under the new Supplemental Proposed Rules, farms and facilities that hold RACs for other farms are not subject to the Preventive Controls Rule. In addition, the FDA has amended its definition of a “very small business,” to mean a business that has less than $1 million in total annual sales of human food, increasing the number of businesses that are exempt from complying with the Preventive Controls Rule.
For the first time, under the Supplemental Proposed Rules, the FDA is creating guidelines for a risk-based requirement for a written supplier verification program, with risks determined through appropriate activities, such as onsite auditing or sampling and testing. The FDA said that public comment generally demonstrated support for including a provision in FSMA that would require food companies to document and verify the safety of their domestic suppliers when potential hazards exist.
Regarding changes to the Proposed Rule on Foreign Supplier Verification Program, the original FSMA language was criticized for requiring domestic companies to conduct in-person audits of foreign facilities, a process that could be burdensome to many companies as well as difficult to implement at foreign facilities that might find themselves immediately host to a cavalcade of foreign inspectors. “Consumer groups want the boots on the ground in every facility,” said Detlefsen. “I frequently made the argument to the Food and Drug Administration – if that foreign supplier is supplying 500 importers, what’s it going to look like as far as how many people are going to have to go to that facility?”
In the Act’s new language, the importer will be tasked with determining appropriate verification activities and the frequency of such verification based on a risk evaluation. Possible verification activities may include annual onsite auditing, but it may also involve remote sampling and testing or some other activity. The one exception to this would be if the foreign supplier is controlling a known serious hazard, in which case annual onsite auditing will be mandatory.
Another criticism Detlefsen and others have of the original Proposed Rule on Foreign Supplier Verification Program concerns the fact that importers are tasked with controlling hazards at the level of the supplier. Detlefsen likens this requirement to a grocery store being required to document the safety of the food one’s customers are preparing. “If we were talking about ground beef, and the supplier was Safeway, and I was the customer, Safeway would have to come to me at least annually and get paperwork that basically said yeah, Clay Detlefsen – he’s cooking those burgers just fine,” he said. “That would be controlling the hazard. I think this is totally bizarre, and it’s going to cause a lot of friction.” The revised rule is more nuanced, requiring importers to consider risks on a case-by-case basis in determining appropriate supplier verification activities.
The lion’s share of FSMA public commentary centered on the Proposed Produce Safety Rule, where interested parties focused their criticisms on the microbial quality standards for agricultural water and the use of raw manure in agriculture. Regarding agricultural water, the original FSMA rules stated that farmers must demonstrate through extensive testing that water being used contains a statistical mean of no more than 126 Colony Forming Units of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water. In addition, the maximum allowable concentration in a single sample was limited to 235 CFU per 100 milliliters. After consideration, the FDA has revised these figures. The statistical mean requirement remains unchanged, but the single sample maximum allowable concentration requirement has been scrapped in favor of a new statistical threshold requirement whereby the mean average of the upper 10 percent of samples cannot exceed 410 CFUs per 100 milliliters.
The FDA has also amended its original requirement that farms test agricultural surface water every seven days during growing season, instead creating a tiered testing model. A farm will have to create a baseline through repeated testing over an initial two-year period, but after that, the farm will simply be required to fill out an annual verification survey to demonstrate safe water quality. The baseline must be reestablished through further testing every ten years.
The FDA’s treatment of how raw manure is to be used in agriculture has been a contentious piece of FSMA negotiations, with the agency clearly demonstrating a preference for the use of compost in agriculture over the use of manure. Under the original FSMA rules, farms would be required to wait a minimum of 9 months to harvest crops after raw manure had been applied to the field. Under the Supplemental Proposed Rules, however, FDA officials have admitted that more scientific testing is necessary before such a rule can be established. Officials have pledged to defer any decision on the 9-month interval issue until a comprehensive scientific study is conducted – a process that could take as much as five years.
“We’re going to try collectively across the produce community to address these concerns, and I think there is agreement across the board that composting is the way to go, but there are limitations to composting,” said Samir Assar, Director of the Produce Safety Staff in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Stay tuned now. We are currently working on a framework, and we hope at some point soon we will be able to provide that framework.”
The deadlines for the final FSMA rules are now staggered throughout the second half of 2015 and the first half of 2016. On August 30, 2015, the FDA is scheduled to publish its final Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule. On October 31, 2015 the final Produce Safety and Foreign Supplier Verification Program Rules will be announced. The final Third-Party Accreditation rule is scheduled for March 31, 2016. And the Sanitary Transport Rule will be finalized on May 31, 2016. Larger farms and food companies will be required to comply with these rules within one year after they are published, but small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) would not be required to be in compliance for two years. Very small businesses with less than $1 million in annual revenues for food sales will be subject to modified preventive controls requirements and will not be required to comply with FSMA for three years.
For those companies hoping to begin preparations to be in compliance with FSMA rules, the task is currently somewhat complicated due to fluctuating requirements and the lack of a specific framework for demonstrating compliance. According to FSMA rules, preventive controls must be implemented by “qualified individuals,” but critics argue that this requirement itself presents a conundrum.
“[Qualified individuals] don’t exist,” said Dennis D’Amico, Assistant Professor in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut. “We don’t have a training yet, so we have nothing to compare it to. Right now, there are no qualified individuals, by definition, because it has to be related to a standardized, accepted, recognized curriculum. And we don’t have that yet.”
D’Amico is currently working with both the FDA and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute for Food Safety and Health as part of the newly created Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance, an organization tasked with creating training materials and courses that will educate people on how to implement FSMA rules in U.S. food production operations. When completed, the FSPCA curriculum will be publicly available online for use by anyone. The agency will also create FSPCA certificates, identifying those who go through the necessary training as “qualified individuals.”
“The Alliance, as it exists, is supposed to serve as a hub for preventive controls knowledge – a place where you guys can turn to with your questions. It’s also supposed to be a direct link between FDA and industry. So you don’t have to call the FDA. You can go right to the Alliance members,” said D’Amico. “We’re also charged with coming up with guidance for major industry sectors. The idea is to come up with industry-specific … hazards you should be looking for: These are some preventive controls that are common. This is how we verify those.”
D’Amico argues that even for smaller companies that do not have to comply with FSMA rules for several years or which may be exempt from certain rules altogether, it makes sense to think about getting into compliance as soon as possible. “Market demands are now requiring these types of plans anyway, so, although you might be exempt from the government, your market may demand it. Case in point: Whole Foods’ new push for third party audits is just one example. There’s going to be many markets that are going to have demands for food safety plans,” he said. “You also have to remember that FDA maintains the power to withdraw exemptions. If you’re suspected of a foodborne illness, they could withdraw your exemption. So you might want to be prepared if that exemption gets pulled.”
Those interested in commenting on the FDA’s FSMA Supplemental Proposed Rules can do so online at www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/fsma/ucm334115.htm. For more information on FSPCA, visit www.iit.edu/ifsh/alliance/.