Occasionally, someone asks about a change in a food safety standard or law or expresses they didn’t know about the “new” requirement until an auditor or government inspector told them they were out of compliance. Usually, some investigation indicates the requirement isn’t clearly stated anywhere. This indicates a case of differing interpretations of the same requirement. Additionally, variations in these regulations can differ from state-to-state, county-to-county, and municipality-to-municipality. For instance, one live cockroach may cause different consequences in one location compared to another nearby location. The same is true for flies, mouse droppings, and other pests and pest evidence.

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) starts publishing the new food safety rules, it’s very important to gain proper understanding of what the new requirements mean. In other words, how does each auditor or government inspector interpret the words. Some new food safety inspectors are aggressive and find many violations, based on their interpretation, while some have more experience and are helpful in explaining new requirements and their meaning.

A Few Tips to Help Meet Regulations

While it is important to know your rights, and it is fully acceptable to ask to see the requirement in the standards or the regulations, it is important to do this in a way that is diplomatic and clearly defined. Here are a few tips:

  • Lay the ground work for good communication by meeting the auditor or inspector and being present during your facility audit.
  • Know that it is fair to ask to see the requirement in the standards or the regulations. If it is a new rule, they will inform you on how to address it properly. If it’s a new interpretation of an old regulation, you’ll be able to define how your inspector interprets the words.
  • Keep thorough notes. Document the inspector’s name and all concerns noted, so you have a written record. If the FDA should institute an enforcement action you’ll have the identity of the inspector and details of the issue for use in a deposition. A written record also lays out an understanding between both parties. When done respectfully, this can go a long way to providing a clear understanding.

The FDA is continually updating their rules and requirements. This can be challenging for everyone involved. Patience, respect, and clear communication go a long way to making regulatory compliance a smoother process.