The Food Safety and Modernization Act and Packaging Machine Manufacturers

The Food Safety and Modernization Act and Packaging Machine Manufacturers

The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into existence in January of 2011.  Since that time, the FDA and others have been working to create rules that will, essentially, keep food safe for the consumer.  One of the latest rules to enter the comment period is the Proposed Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food.  Speaking generally, the focus of the rule is to put programs in place that will fight against food safety issues and foodborne illnesses before they happen, rather than reacting to them after the fact.  This rule will require a number of facilities to create and maintain a program of preventive controls.  

This rule will undoubtedly have an effect on the day to day practices of food manufacturers, handlers, packers and the like.  Packaging machinery manufacturers, however, are not specifically covered by the rule.  But since packaging machine manufacturers serve the Food and Beverage Industry, there is no doubt that the new rule will be felt indirectly by those who build the power conveyors, filling machines, capping machines and other packaging equipment used in the Food and Beverage Industry.

As the food facilities covered by the FSMA come into compliance with the new proposed rules, the safety plans will likely include an evaluation of the packaging machinery being used in each facility.  Companies will likely pay special attention to the contact parts used on machines like power conveyors, filling equipment, packing equipment and other machinery likely to come in contact with the food product.  Manufacturers of packaging machinery for Food and Beverage facilities have always considered the need for sanitary machinery (though undoubtedly some sad exceptions could be found), so the acceptance of this rule would seem to have little bearing on the process of manufacturing packaging equipment.  But the flexibility built into the FSMA rule may lead to some changes even for machine manufacturers.

The facilities covered by the FSMA are given the flexibility to create their own safety plans as well as their own preventive measures regarding food safety.  While this allows each facility to hand tailor the safety plans to their own unique and specific practices, it can also mean a wide range of rules and regulations for suppliers on the fringe of the rule, such as packaging machine manufacturers.  With the flexible guidelines in place, what may be considered "sanitary" packaging equipment for one facility may not meet the standards of the next facility.  Certain materials and contact parts used in the packaging machinery may work for one packager, but not the next.  While this is not of overwhelming concern, it is still a situation that should be considered during the comment period of the rule, which is set to close September 16, 2013.

As long as the facilities pull out their FSMA safety plans when contracting for packaging machinery, the manufacturer can make sure to create equipment that will meet the standards set out by that company.  As for existing equipment, depending on how the rule is ultimately designed and defined as well as the plans set forth by the Food Industry Companies themselves, packaging machinery may need to upgraded or, in rare cases, completely re-designed.  

For more on the FSMA and the proposed rules of the FSMA, visit the website of the FDA.