When FDA finalized the sweeping safety changes outlined in FSMA it gave covered food and beverage companies with 500 employees or less – or about 80% of the industry – until Sept. 19, 2017, to create and implement a food safety system that includes hazards analysis and risk-based preventive control measures that cover processing, food allergens, sanitation controls, supply-chain controls and a recall plan.
While admirable and necessary for safety, these expectations are difficult with which to comply and with an average price tag of $12,000 expensive to develop and maintain, according to Matthew Botos, a food safety expert who is working with FDA to train inspectors to implement the Act.
As a self-described food evangelist dedicated to safety and compliance, Botos became fed up with small and mid-size companies that were intimidated by FSAM hiring consultants who he said “were not very good” and who also charged a “crazy” amount of money for their services.
In response, he created ConnectFood, an online service that walks companies step-by-step through generating a food safety plan and offers on-demand expert plan validation services from a network of food experts.
“It is kind of like a TurboTax for food safety plans,” he said.
Botos explained that clients can choose from three different levels of support – the most basic of which is free and helps create a “lightweight food safety plan” covering preventive controls, HACCP, lab verification and document control.
For $89 a month, which Botos says is perfect for small manufacturers, companies get help with supplier management, access to recall plan generator, sanitation standard operation procedures and good manufacturing practices survey.
The third tier is customized for co-packers and medium-sized manufacturers with a price tailored to match the specific service. But it includes cloud storage, client management, advanced permissions, internal lab management and a dedicated expert review team.
Ultimately, Botos says, “the software allows people to have solutions to their food safety plan for all their products at a much more reasonable cost,” than working with a consultant or getting caught out of compliance.
And while Botos tries to keep the costs down to help more companies comply, he says that investing in a food safety plan will help companies earn money.
“Money is a big deal. I talk to a lot of food companies that say, ‘This is my budget.’ But I tell them they can’t grow and can’t sell to more sophisticated buyers like the large chains and even some smaller grocery chains if they don’t have a food safety plan,” he said.
He also said even if companies think their food and processes are safe, it is hard to know what you don’t know and with the size and complexity of FSMA this could be a lot – so it is better to be safe than sorry.
This is why he argues that $89 a month won’t break the budget – even for a small company with tight margins.
“If you need help understanding a process, you just hit a button. If you need help with an audit coming up, hit a button. If you need laboratory work, hit a button and we will match you with a lab and at the end of the day you can feel comfortable knowing you are doing the right thing and you are doing it safely,” he said.
Recognizing that even with help FSMA can be intimidating, he added: “It is manageable. But it is kind of like jumping in a lake at the beginning of the summer. You know, a little cold when you start walking in, but once you get in there you will be just fine.”