The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Section 204 imposes crucial regulations on fresh food retailers to ensure the safety and integrity of their products. Compliance with these regulations is vital to safeguard public health and maintain consumer trust.

There are many steps and strategies fresh food retailers can adopt to effectively prepare for compliance with FSMA Section 204, including training and education, documentation, safe handling, storage, transportation, risk assessment, preventive controls, and collaboration with suppliers.

In recent years, the food industry has witnessed a significant shift towards prioritizing food safety. With the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aimed to revamp the food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them. 

Among its provisions, Section 204 of the FSMA specifically targets the need for enhanced record-keeping requirements for food facilities. Supermarket operators, as critical players in the food supply chain, have been diligently implementing systems to comply with these regulations.

FSMA Section 204 mandates that certain food facilities maintain records to identify potential hazards and take necessary steps to prevent food safety issues. This requirement is particularly crucial for supermarkets, which handle a wide array of perishable and non-perishable goods, including fresh produce, meat, dairy, and packaged foods. Compliance with this section necessitates robust record-keeping practices and the implementation of systems that ensure traceability throughout the supply chain.

“While compliance is still about two years away, some retailers are aggressively tackling the problem of traceability by taking a stepwise approach to identifying the current FTL foods they buy and sell and understanding gaps in the data they’re currently receiving from suppliers. Depending on the retailer, creating workgroups with current suppliers is a needed and important step in understanding how data will be sent, recorded and stored,” said Ben Miller, executive vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at The Acheson Group, a global food safety and public health consulting firm.

“Some wholesalers are starting to understand the potential challenge they face in recording lot-code-specific information when building a pallet to send to a retailer and are looking for the retailer to capture all the information upon receipt. While this may be the most efficient approach for the wholesaler, it places an extra burden on the retailer to scan products when received. Negotiating ‘who will do what’ relative to data capture and process changes is a critical part of building compliant data systems.”

Getting ready

Supermarket operators are focusing on enhancing their internal processes and training their personnel to ensure compliance with FSMA Section 204. This includes implementing standardized operating procedures (SOPs) for handling and storing food products, conducting regular audits and inspections, and providing comprehensive training programs for employees involved in food safety management. Collaboration with suppliers and other partners in the supply chain is another essential aspect of compliance with FSMA Section 204. Supermarkets are working closely with their suppliers to ensure that they adhere to stringent food safety standards and provide accurate and timely documentation. By fostering transparency and communication throughout the supply chain, supermarkets can minimize the risk of food safety incidents and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Many supermarket operators are proactively engaging with regulatory agencies and industry organizations to stay abreast of evolving regulations and best practices in food safety management. Participation in training programs, workshops, and industry conferences allows supermarket operators to exchange knowledge and insights with peers and experts in the field, ultimately strengthening their ability to comply with FSMA Section 204 and safeguard public health.

“As an organization, it is our mission to provide our retailers with technologies that drive results and simplify the overall responsibilities of running a retail grocery store,” said David Politz, senior vice president and chief information officer of Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge, a grocery wholesaler distributing to 240 independent retailers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas. “Food traceability adds a new layer of complexity to day-to-day operations for many – if not all – of our members, and it was important to us to tackle this problem and find a solution that works for the retailer.” Training and education are fundamental pillars for ensuring compliance with FSMA Section 204. Retailers must invest in comprehensive training programs to educate staff about food safety regulations, best practices, and the significance of compliance. This includes training on proper handling techniques, sanitation protocols, allergen management, and the identification of potential hazards. Regular refresher courses and updates should be provided to keep staff informed about the latest regulatory requirements and industry standards.

“Retailers should begin training all distribution center and store personnel on FSMA 204 now, so as they implement the required process changes, personnel understand what’s driving the change. There will need to be more training on the specific changes in the DCs, central kitchens and stores as new processes are implemented, but laying the groundwork now will help teams understand the WHYs of FSMA 204 and will make it easier when it’s time to address the HOWs of FSMA 204 later,” said Randy Fields, CEO of ReposiTrak, a retail technology company focused on traceability and compliance.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire FSMA 204 Best Practices feature and more in the digital edition here.