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What restaurants need to know about FSMA compliance

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Provisions of the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that are rolling out this year and next could have an impact on restaurant operations.

The act, intended to avert foodborne illness outbreaks, targets food producers as well as the restaurant supply chain, but some foodservice organizations could be directly affected by the law as well. The new rules establish stepped-up standards for preventive controls, environmental monitoring, product testing, sanitary transportation, water quality and other procedures.

Specifically, the sweeping changes in preventive measures and documentation mandated by FSMA affect facilities that manufacture, produce, import, distribute and transport food for consumption in the United States. As a result, restaurant companies that supply products from central commissaries or bakeries, for instance, could need to comply with the law, as would any foodservice operation that directly imports ingredients.

Under the Sanitary Transport of Human Food Final Rule, both the shipper and receiver must verify that shipments received arrive within temperature ranges that would prevent food spoilage and that the vehicle delivering the food is clean and well maintained. The restaurant also has a right and responsibility to access records of the shipper, loader and carrier to ensure that the cold chain has been maintained throughout the journey.

The Foreign Supplier Verification Program requires any business importing food to comply by verifying that the foreign supplier has met all the conditions that domestic suppliers must meet. The importer is also required to document that the facility has been audited by FDA-accredited third party inspectors.

The law also arms FDA with new authority to order mandatory recalls of tainted products and to take legal action against companies that fail to comply with the new rules.

In the event of a recall, restaurants are required to follow whatever steps FDA deems necessary, says Kathy Hardee, shareholder with Polsinelli PC, a Kansas City-based law firm. At a minimum, she advises, “as soon as you get word of a recall that could affect you, get it off the menu and out of anything you are serving” to reduce potential liability.

Although FDA has provided an abundance of material on its website to explain implementation of FSMA to the industries involved in the supply chain, the new rules are not the easiest to navigate. “It’s a good idea to determine how FDA classifies your operation,” says Debby Newslow, president of D. L. Newslow & Associates, which provides food safety and quality management training. “There are a lot of nuances to the law.”

Some food safety experts also believe that because so many foodborne illness cases can be traced to improper handling at the restaurant level, foodservice operators could be next in line for regulatory oversight. Even if that never comes to pass, many argue, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially with something as potentially hazardous to public health and harmful to a restaurant brand’s image as a disease outbreak.

For more information on how to protect your customers and your brand reputation, check out 10 questions every CEO should ask about FSMA here.

This post is sponsored by PURE Bioscience

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