Focus on Food Safety

March 18, 2012

Focus on food safety_3.18.12.jpgSaturday's educational programming opened with a detailed analysis of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) by Martin J. Hahn, parter, Hogan Lovells US LLP, SFA's general counsel, who urged snack industry executives to waste no time in complying with the provisions of the law, now in the process of being implemented.

While Hahn pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue proposed regulations to implement key portions of the law, he said the FDA is far more aggressive than in previous years and has been given much broader authority regarding inspections, recalls and enforcement. He said the agency could easily shut down a plant's operation if there are questions -- reasonable or not -- about the safety of its manufacturing processes or its products.

The burden of proof also has been shifted by the new law to the manufacturer who must be able to document that its food processes are safe and in full compliance with the law. Prior to FSMA, the burden was on the FDA to show that a company's practices were unsafe and that food was adulterated.

Inspections will be much more frequent, Hahn warned, with every food manufacturing facility and warehouse inspected at least every five years and the inspections much more detailed and intense than in the past. Moreover, if reinspections are required, companies will be required to pay a fee of $224 per hour or $325 per hour for international plant inspections -- fees that could end up totaling upwards of $20,000.

"Under President Obama, FDA inspections have drastically changed," Hahn said. "I think they have sent FDA inspectors to Mean School. There is an aggression and obstinance that we have not seen in recent years. They will insist that they have the right to take pictures and access your records."

"This act," said Hahn, "is a game changer for the food industry."

Attendees of the session received specific recommendations on areas that their companies should focus to be in compliance so they are not "scrambling" when the regulations are finally implemented.