A Focal Point Interview with Attorney Shawn Stevens

New FDA food safety rules could impact packaging manufacturers and converters
Sep 17, 2014 11:20 AM ET
Campaign: Focal Point 2014
Shawn Stevens

Focal Point 2014: Packaging at the Leading Edge

Shawn K. Stevens, one of the few attorneys in the U.S. whose entire practice is in representing the food industry, will bring his expertise to the packaging conference Focal Point 2014 on October 14 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Register now and save $70.

Stevens will present "Where Food Packaging and FDA Regulation and Enforcement Collide: How to Package Your Risk on the New Food Safety Battleground."

Registration for the conference is online at http://conta.cc/1sYCWQU
More information about the conference is online at http://www.uwsp.edu/wist/Pages/focal-point/default.aspx

We asked Stevens, in an email interview, to talk about his role, to comment on current regulations impacting the food packaging industry, and to provide a brief preview of his presentation.

WIST: Please can you describe the role Gass Weber Mullins plays in food packaging and legislation matters?
Shawn Stevens: Packaging is meant to preserve and protect the safety of food, not increase its exposure and risk. When it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Congress gave FDA the enormous responsibility of substantially improving the safety of our food supply. The new law imposes significant new legal and regulatory requirements on the food industry, and gives FDA vast new enforcement powers. For the first time ever, FDA regulated food companies will be required to closely scrutinize every aspect of their operations (including their packaging) to identify and contain any potential food safety risk.
So, what role do I play when it comes to improving food safety in this new and dynamic environment? I follow two paths. As a national food safety advocate and speaker, I continuously challenge both regulators and industry to embrace new regulations and industry standards that recognize the critical importance of food safety at every level in the supply chain. This directly impacts and includes food safety awareness and standards that apply to food packaging, an area that’s unfortunately often overlooked.
As a national food safety lawyer, I work very closely with industry clients helping them identify and then also contain food safety risk. These efforts including working with clients to ensure that the packaging solutions they have developed and sourced align with the broader goal of increasing the integrity and safety of their finished products. And, sometimes, this requires that I force my clients to embrace a paradigm shift, challenging them not to view food packaging as a burden creating additional complexity and cost, but as an insurance policy to better protect the quality and safety of their products. 
Food Safety is a complex business, and if food companies are going to compete successfully, and also survive the scrutiny of FDA and the new powers granted to it under FSMA, they need to partner with suppliers who can consistently deliver on integrity and safety.
WIST: What is the single biggest regulatory issue currently impacting food packaging manufacturers and converters?
Shawn Stevens: There are a number of rules FDA is finalizing that will impact the food packaging industry substantially. The first is that all FDA regulated food companies will be required to develop and implement written preventative control plans. These written food safety plans will require food companies to methodically assess and critique every possible food safety hazard that may influence their product.
By extension, this will require food companies to challenge their packaging suppliers to provide assurance that the food packaging they are sourcing is being produced in such a manner and under such conditions that will not only eliminate any potential hazards, but that it will also satisfy each of the new FDA requirements as it relates to potential risk. Depending upon the size and type of operation, this could be a significant undertaking.
Second, the FDA is also finalizing a rule which will require domestic food companies sourcing food ingredients from overseas to conduct this same assessment of their foreign suppliers. Here too, in order to satisfy FDA regulatory scrutiny and avoid regulatory enforcement activities, domestic food companies will also need to ensure that the packaging their suppliers have selected and are using not only meets, but was manufactured in such a way that satisfies, the new federal standards. While there are additional aspects of FSMA that will impact food packaging substantially, these are just some of the highlights. Given the new complexities under FSMA, it is important for food packaging companies to understand the new regulations, make the necessary adjustments to ensure compliance and, of course, leave nothing to chance.
WIST: What can delegates expect to take away from the conference after listening to your presentation?
Shawn Stevens: I am excited to speak on this topic. As noted, FSMA has substantial implications for the food packaging industry. I will provide delegates with a clear understanding of what FDA (and, by extension the food industry as a whole) will expect and require of the food packaging industry under the new FSMA regulations. Armed with sufficient knowledge about those expectations, food packaging companies will be able to adjust their approach today to ensure that they are aligned with the new FSMA requirements and, hopefully, by doing so, gain a distinct competitive advantage tomorrow.

Register by September 19 for early registration discount price of $180, save $70. Register online at http://conta.cc/1sYCWQU


About The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology
The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) provides research, laboratory services and education to help businesses and organizations accomplish their goals in ways that make more sustainable use of natural resources. Technology and ideas developed by WIST and its partners will spur economic growth and help preserve a healthy environment for future generations. WIST is a multidisciplinary institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with support from the UWSP College of Natural Resources and the College of Letters and Science.