Although wineries have always been required to meet food safety standards and follow proper sanitation practices, many have not received an official food safety inspection in years. Recently, however, wineries throughout the U.S. have seen an uptick in the number of facility inspections being performed by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials.
According to a report from Wine Spectator, during 2011, the FDA performed 261 winery inspections nationwide, either directly or through state agencies, compared with 132 in 2009-2010. Washington state wineries alone received 23 inspections from state agencies under contract with FDA during the 2011–12 fiscal year.
FDA spokeswoman Patricia El-Hinnawy explained that the increase in inspections can be attributed to the new inspection and compliance mandates under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Signed into law on January 4, 2011, FSMA now requires inspections to be based on risk, and the frequency of inspections to increase. Specifically, it calls for all high-risk domestic food facilities to be inspected within five years of the bill’s signing and then at least once every three years after that. Further, all other domestic food facilities, including low risk facilities like wineries, are to be inspected within seven years of the bill’s signing and then at least once every five years thereafter.
Although no one looks forward to an FDA inspection, it is a necessary part of selling food and beverage products in the U.S. Accordingly, it is important to always be prepared and know what to expect. On the day of inspection, an FDA investigator will meet with the top management official at the facility, if available, and conduct a thorough inspection of the facility, accompanied by one or more employees. The inspector must present an FDA Notice of Inspection. After the inspection, a facility will receive a report indicating the inspector’s observations including any objectionable conditions or violations.
There are certain things you can do to help the inspection go as smoothly as possible. First, it is critical for food and beverage facilities to perform internal compliance checks on a regular basis. Make sure the facility is in full compliance with all applicable FDA regulations by performing mock inspections. Second, maintain a set of written standard operating procedures and follow them. Third, organize a team of two or more persons to serve as point persons to accompany an FDA representative during the inspection. Lastly, on inspection day, make sure to remember the following: “Be calm, be courteous, be cooperative.”