FSMA Food Safety Regs Going Local

Starting September 17, 2018, all “very small business“ (roughly defined as business with less than $1 million in annual sales1) manufacturing, processing2 or holding food must be in compliance with applicable federal regulations issued pursuant to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that govern “Current Good Manufacturing Practices, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food.”3 These regulations break down into two different requirements: first, that the food business be in compliance with current good manufacturing practices (CGMPs) and, second, that it develop and implement a food safety plan that effectively performs a hazard analysis and designs risk-based preventive controls for human food (HARPC, Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls).4

The way FDA is interpreting these regulations, many local food producers will be under FDA‘s jurisdiction and subject to inspection by the agency, possibly even including a home kitchen producing cottage foods. The biggest potential problem for local food producers is not going to be the HARPC requirements but rather the CGMP mandate.

HARPC–Who Is Exempt?
HARPC does not apply to any business manufacturing, processing, packing or holding food that is not required to register with FDA as a “food facility.” There are a number of exemptions from the registration requirements; the exemption most applicable to local food producers would be the one for “farms” and “retail food establishments.“5

“Farm” is defined, in part, as “an operation under one management in one general physical location devoted to the growing of crops, the harvesting of crops, the raising of animals (including seafood) or any combination of these activities.6 The term “farm“ also includes “packaging and labeling raw agricultural commodities when these activities do not involve additional manufacturing/processing. Farmers growing/raising and selling raw milk, eggs, raw honey7, whole fruits and vegetables8, meat from amenable species (cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and poultry)9 or any combination of the above foods would qualify as a farm and be exempt from the registration requirement. The farmer/producer selling any processed fruits and vegetables (with one exception)10, any products processed from raw milk, maple syrup11 or any meats from non-amenable species (e.g., rabbit, bison, deer, elk)12 would result in the loss of the “farm“ exemption from registration.

If the farm business doesn’t qualify as a “farm“, it can still be exempt from the registration requirement if it qualifies as a retail food establishment. A business qualifies as a retail food establishment if over half of the “annual monetary value of its sales of food products are direct to consumers.13 This would include sales of all food products sold by the farmer/artisan not just food products that the business produced.

For those not aware of the “farm” or “retail food establishment” exemption who have registered with FDA, it is recommended—if your business qualifies as a farm or retail food establishment—that you contact FDA and request that it cancel your registration. If FDA independently verifies that your business is not required to register, it will cancel your registration.14

Those registering with FDA as a food facility with less than $1 million in annual sales are eligible for a “qualified facility” exemption from the HARPC requirement.15 To obtain the exemption, eligible facilities must submit form FDA 3942a to the agency by December 17, 2018 (those facilities starting up their business after September 17, 2018, must submit the same form before beginning operations).16 According to FDA’s Outreach Info Center, form 3942a will be available September 19; currently, only a draft version of the form is in circulation.

On the form, those seeking the exemption must attest that they are a qualified facility17 (e.g., a “very small business“) and either that they “have identified the potential hazards associated with the food being produced, are implementing preventative controls to address the hazards, and are monitoring the performance of the preventative controls to ensure that such controls are effective“18 or that they are in compliance with state or other applicable non-federal laws and include evidence of regulatory oversight19 (e.g., licenses, permits). Beginning in 2020, those seeking the exemption must submit form 3942a every two years.20 Under certain circumstances, FDA can revoke the qualified facility exemption.21

The CGMP requirements are where FDA will directly regulate local food producers. FDA has been low-key about to whom it will apply the CGMP requirements22, but a read of the regulations indicates that FDA can apply them to local food. Unlike the HARPC requirement, small farms and local artisan producers will have no exemption from the CGMP mandate based on their revenues. Among those exempt from the CGMP are: producers exclusively under USDA jurisdiction (e.g., producing and selling only beef, pork, lamb, goat and poultry products); and farms meeting the “farm” definition discussed above. It appears all, or nearly all, other local food producers will be subject to the CGMPs. According to FDA, the CGMP requirements apply even to businesses operating only in intrastate commerce.23

CGMPs are a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme–easily subject to varying interpretation by inspectors–that contain requirements for personnel24, plants and grounds25, sanitary operations26, sanitary facilities and controls27, equipment and utensils28, processes and controls29, warehousing and distribution30, holding and distributing distribution of human food by-products for use as animal food31, and the defect action levels32. These are requirements that state legislatures should be determining but FDA wants to regulate as much food and as many food producers as possible. Value-added products are where the money is; FDA wants to have jurisdiction over all of these products, no matter how small the food producer is.

The FDA Bootstrap
As far as is known, Congress never brought up CGMPs when the Food Safety Modernization Act was under consideration but FDA took advantage of the broad power the Act gave it to issue regulations and bootstrapped the CGMP requirements into FSMA. FDA had long contended that FDA could regulate intrastate food commerce under powers granted it by the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) to regulate communicable disease; it wasn’t until FSMA became law that the agency had the traction to do so (the CGMPs had their own Part in the Code of Federal Regulations, 21 CFR 110; FDA used FSMA to insert the CGMPs into Part 117 and 21 CFR 110 will be repealed on September 17, 2018).

The PHSA provides that:

    “The Surgeon General, with the approval of the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] is authorized to make and enforce such regulations as are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable disease from foreign countries into the states or possessions, or from one state or position into any other state or possession. For the purposes of carrying out and enforcing such regulations the Surgeon General may provide for such inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, distraction of animals or articles found to be so infected or contaminated as to be sources of dangerous infection to human beings, and other measures, as in his judgment may be necessary.”33

That this power authorizes FDA to inspect home kitchens making cottage foods is definitely a reach. There is nothing in the PHSA or in its legislative history indicating FDA has the authority to inspect an intrastate food business when there is no credible evidence that the business is producing food under unsanitary conditions or is responsible for a foodborne illness outbreak. FDA has claimed that “due to the nationwide interrelated structure of the food industry, communicable disease may, without proper intrastate food controls, easily spread interstate.“34 That statement describes the industrial food system, not the local food system. FDA should recognize the difference between the two and leave the latter alone.

In addition to being beyond its power, enforcing the CGMPs against local food is a waste of resources if FSMA is about improving food safety. Instead of spending whatever money FDA intended to budget towards inspections of intrastate food producers, why doesn’t FDA put its resources towards areas of the food sector where there are actually food safety problems, like imported food?

There are built-in incentives for small farmers and local artisans to produce safe food; those producers are feeding the same food to their families, one product recall can put them out of business, one case of foodborne illness can put them out of business. Legislatures in nearly all states have recognized this with the passage of cottage food bills that allow the direct-from-producer-to-consumer sale of a variety of foods with little or no regulation. Four states have passed food freedom bills and other legislation that allow the unregulated sale from producer to consumer of nearly all foods other than meat. There have been few, if any, cases of foodborne illness attributed to producers operating under cottage food or food freedom laws.

Will FDA actually inspect private home kitchens to make sure that the kitchens are in compliance with applicable CGMP requirements? If there were inspections, they would likely be conducted by state agencies pursuant to a cooperative agreement with FDA. So, state legislators who voted on behalf of their constituents who want to deregulate local food transactions between consumers and producers are now being told by FDA that the same state agencies that the legislators didn’t want inspecting local food producers will now be inspecting them; this even though there is little or no evidence that Congress wanted FDA to inspect these same producers for compliance with CGMPs.

FDA might not have the resources to carry out widespread inspections of local food producers, but the threat is that FDA can create a chilling effect on local food production with a small number of inspections of small farms and cottage food operations; convincing some local food producers to get out of business while deterring others from starting up operations.

There are ways to fight against FDA’s attempt to regulate all local food production. For starters, having Congress deny FDA funding to conduct inspections of those in the food business who are not required to register with the agency as a food facility. State legislatures could also require that any FSMA cooperative agreements between state agencies and FDA exclude in the agreement inspections of businesses not required to register as food facilities. Congress could also amend FSMA to clarify that those not required to register as a food facility be exempt from the CGMP requirements. Those processing, manufacturing, packing or holding food for animal consumption not required to register with FDA don’t have to comply with the CGMP mandate35; FDA can apply the same standards to human food.

An immediate move FDA can make is to include additional kinds of manufacturing/processing under the definition of “farm”, enabling farmers to produce more value-added products while still remaining under the “farm” exemption. The agency is currently in the process of amending that definition.36

The more local food producers there are the safer food will be in this country; applying the CGMPs to small farmers and local artisan producers is a big step in the wrong direction.

Those with questions about food facility registration or exemptions from the HARPC and CGMP requirements can email Pete Kennedy at pete@realmilk.com.


[1] The exact definition of “very small business” in 21 CFR 117.3 reads:

    Very small business means, for purposes of this part, a business (including any subsidiaries and affiliates) averaging less than $1,000,000, adjusted for inflation, per year, during the 3-year period preceding the applicable calendar year in sales of human food plus the market value of human food manufactured, processed, packed, or held without sale (e.g., held for a fee). [bolded emphasis added]

[2] The definition of manufacturing/processing is extremely broad; 21 CFR 1.227 and 21 CFR 117.3 state the same definition:

    Manufacturing/processing means making food from one or more ingredients, or synthesizing, preparing, treating, modifying or manipulating food, including food crops or ingredients. Examples of manufacturing/processing activities include: Baking, boiling, bottling, canning, cooking, cooling, cutting, distilling, drying/dehydrating raw agricultural commodities to create a distinct commodity (such as drying/dehydrating grapes to produce raisins), evaporating, eviscerating, extracting juice, formulating, freezing, grinding, homogenizing, irradiating, labeling, milling, mixing, packaging (including modified atmosphere packaging), pasteurizing, peeling, rendering, treating to manipulate ripening, trimming, washing, or waxing. For farms and farm mixed-type facilities, manufacturing/processing does not include activities that are part of harvesting, packing, or holding. [bolded emphasis added]

[3] 21 CFR Part 117
[4] The deadline for compliance with the CGMP and HARPC requirements is September 17, 2018, for those very small businesses that manufacture, process, pack and/or hold animal food. “Very small business”, in the case of animal food, is roughly defined as those businesses with under $2.5 million in annual sales. See 21 CFR 507.3 and 21 CFR 507.5
[5] 21 USC 350d(c)(1), 21 CFR 1.226(b) and (c)
[6] 21 CFR 1.227
[7] FDA, Questions and Answers Regarding Food Facility Registration (Seventh Edition): Guidance for Industry, August 2018, pp. 10-11. Last viewed 8/30/18 at https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/UCM332460.pdf
[8] Farms growing and selling vegetables could be subject to FSMA’s produce safety standards depending on their income levels and whether the vegetables are usually cooked before being consumed. See 21 CFR 112.1-112.5
[9] Meat from amenable species is not considered a raw agricultural commodity but, since it is under USDA’s jurisdiction, a farmer selling meat from amenable species the farmer raised would not cause the loss of “farm” status.
[10] “Drying/dehydrating raw agricultural commodities to create a distinct commodity (such as drying/dehydrating grapes to produce raisins), and packaging and labeling such commodities, without additional manufacturing/processing….” — from definition of “farm”, 21 CFR 1.227
[11] FDA, Questions and Answers Regarding Food Facility Registration (Seventh Edition): Guidance for Industry, August 2018, p. 9. Last viewed 8/30/18 at https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/UCM332460.pdf
[12] Ibid., p. 21
[13] 21 CFR 1.227
[14] 21 CFR 1.241(c)
[15] 21 CFR 117.3 contains definitions and 21 CFR 117.5 gives greater detail about exemptions.

    Qualified facility means (when including the sales by any subsidiary; affiliate; or subsidiaries or affiliates, collectively, of any entity of which the facility is a subsidiary or affiliate) a facility that is a very small business as defined in this part, or a facility to which both of the following apply:

      (1) During the 3-year period preceding the applicable calendar year, the average annual monetary value of the food manufactured, processed, packed or held at such facility that is sold directly to qualified end-users (as defined in this part) during such period exceeded the average annual monetary value of the food sold by such facility to all other purchasers; and
      (2) The average annual monetary value of all food sold during the 3-year period preceding the applicable calendar year was less than $500,000, adjusted for inflation. Qualified facility exemption means an exemption applicable to a qualified facility under § 117.5(a).

    [21 CFR 117.3, bolded emphasis added]

[16] 21 CFR 117.201(c)(2)(i)(A)(b)
[17] Applicants for the exemption must have financial records from 2016-2018 to show that they are a “very small business” as defined in 21 CFR 117.3
[18] 21 CFR 117.201(a)(2)(i)
[19] 21 CFR 117.201(a)(2)(ii)
[20] 21 CFR 117.201(c)(2)(i)(C)(ii)
[21] 21 CFR 117.251
[22] FDA states on its website, “It is important to note that applicability of the CGMPs is not dependent on whether a facility is required to register.” See “FSMA Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food” webpage. Last viewed 8/30/18 at https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/fsma/ucm334115.htm
[23] 78 FR 3646, 3651
[24] 21 CFR 117.10 – employee cleanliness and disease control
[25] 21 CFR 117.20 – plant construction, condition of the grounds
[26] 21 CFR 117.35 – general maintenance, cleaning food and non-food contact surfaces, storage of equipment and utensils
[27] 21 CFR 117.37 – water supply, plumbing, sewage disposal, toilet facilities, handwashing facilities, garbage disposal
[28] 21 CFR 117.40 – equipment design requirements
[29] 21 CFR 117.80 – operational requirements for food manufacturing, and food and ingredient storage
[30] 21 CFR 117.93 – sanitary requirements for storage and transportation of food
[31] 21 CFR 117.95 – includes requirements on containers, equipment, and labeling food by-products
[32] 21 CFR 117.110 – Defect action levels. Per 21 CFR 117.3, Defect action level means a level of a non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defect at which FDA may regard a food product ‘adulterated’ and subject to enforcement action under section 402(a)(3) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.” [bolded emphasis added]
[33] 42 USC 264(a)
[34] 78 FR 3646, 3651 citing 44 FR 23238 at 33239
[35] 21 CFR 507.5(a)
[36] Letter from FDA Commissioner Gottlieb, July 31, 2018. Last viewed 8/30/18 at

Photo source at top of article: Sandrine Perez. Photo source at bottom: FSMA webpage on FDA website

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