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FDA Inspections: Navigating the Different Inspection Types

In the regulatory world, understanding the ins and outs of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections is crucial for any business involved in the production and distribution of food, drugs, and medical devices. The FDA utilizes a risk-based approach to conduct its inspections, prioritizing resources and attention to areas deemed as higher risk. This strategic method ensures that the FDA efficiently upholds safety standards while adapting to the complexities of various industries. This blog aims to discuss the different types of FDA inspections which will be helpful in navigating them successfully, ensuring your business stays compliant and ahead of any potential regulatory challenges.

Understanding FDA Inspections

FDA inspections are conducted to ensure that products are safe, effective, and manufactured in compliance with established regulations. The primary goal is to protect public health by verifying that companies adhere to good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and other regulatory requirements. Inspections help identify and correct any deviations from regulatory standards, thereby preventing potential harm to consumers.

The FDA inspects a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices, food production, cosmetics, and tobacco products. Any facility involved in the manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding of FDA-regulated products can be subject to inspection. This includes domestic facilities as well as foreign establishments that export products to the United States.

When the FDA conducts inspections, particularly of medical device manufacturers, the Quality System Inspection Technique (QSIT) guide plays a pivotal role. This guide outlines the FDA’s approach to inspecting a manufacturer’s quality system, ensuring that products are safe, effective, and in compliance with regulatory requirements.

A wide range of industries are subjected to FDA inspections.
A wide range of industries are subjected to FDA inspections.

Types of FDA Inspections

Routine inspections, also known as surveillance inspections, are a key component of the FDA’s regulatory oversight. These inspections are typically unannounced and occur at regular intervals based on a risk-based schedule. The frequency of these inspections can vary depending on factors such as the type of product, the compliance history of the facility, and the potential risk to public health.

During a routine inspection, FDA investigators will review a facility’s compliance with current good manufacturing practices (cGMP), which include:

Facility and Equipment Maintenance:

Ensuring that the manufacturing environment is clean and equipment is properly maintained to prevent contamination.

Production and Process Controls:

Verifying that processes are consistently producing products that meet quality standards.

Quality Control Systems:

Assessing the effectiveness of quality control measures in identifying and correcting defects.

Record-Keeping Practices:

Ensuring that accurate and complete records are kept, documenting every step of the manufacturing process.

The goal of routine inspections is to ensure ongoing compliance and to identify any areas that require improvement before they lead to significant issues.

Pre-approval inspections are critical for pharmaceutical companies seeking FDA approval to market a new drug, biologic or device. These inspections are conducted after a company submits a New Drug Application (NDA) or Biologics License Application (BLA) and before the FDA grants marketing approval.

The main objectives of pre-approval inspections are to:

Verify Application Data:

Ensure that the data submitted in the application is accurate and compliant with FDA regulations. Confirm that the facility can reproduce the product as described.

Assess Manufacturing Readiness:

Confirm that the manufacturing facility is ready to produce the product on a commercial scale in compliance with cGMP.

Evaluate Quality Control Systems:

Ensure that the facility has robust quality control systems in place to maintain product quality and consistency.

For-cause inspections are initiated in response to specific concerns about a facility’s compliance status or product safety. These concerns can arise from various sources, including:

  • Adverse Event Reports: Reports of negative health effects associated with a product. While not every report prompts an inspection, they can be a significant factor in the FDA’s decision-making process for for-cause inspections.
  • Consumer Complaints: Complaints from consumers about product quality or safety.
  • Previous Inspection Findings: Follow-up on issues identified during prior inspections that require further investigation.
  • Regulatory Intelligence: Information from other regulatory agencies or industry sources indicating potential compliance problems.

For-cause inspections are typically unannounced and focused on specific issues. During these inspections, FDA investigators will conduct a thorough review of the areas of concern, which may include:

Investigating Specific Complaints:

Assessing the validity of consumer complaints or adverse event reports.

Evaluating Corrective Actions:

Verifying that the facility has implemented effective corrective actions to address previously identified issues.

Assessing Overall Compliance:

Reviewing the facility’s compliance with all relevant FDA regulations to determine if further action is needed.

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Closing Meeting and Form FDA 483

At the conclusion of the inspection, the investigator(s) will hold a closing meeting with the company’s management. This meeting serves to discuss any significant findings or concerns identified during the inspection. If investigators observe any conditions that may constitute violations of the Food Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, they issue a Form FDA 483 (Inspectional Observations). This form outlines the specific observations of non-compliance with regulations and is presented to the company’s management to prompt immediate corrective action.

Companies Responding to FDA Form 483: A Critical Review and Discussion.
Companies Responding to FDA Form 483: A Critical Review and Discussion.

Responding to Form FDA 483

If a Form FDA 483 is issued, the company has a designated timeframe (15 business days) to respond in writing to the FDA. This response should:

  • Address each observation individually, outlining corrective actions planned or already taken.
  • Include timelines for implementing corrective actions.
  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the violation and commitment to resolving it.

Compliance review

FDA undertakes a comprehensive compliance review encompassing several critical elements to ensure a thorough evaluation:

  • Form FDA 483
  • Establishment Inspection Report (EIR): Developed by the investigator(s), this detailed report covers all findings from the inspection.
  • Evidence Collected: Any samples, photographs, or documents gathered during the inspection or through other agency activities.
  • Company’s Response: The company’s response to Form FDA 483, including any plans for corrective actions.
  • Additional Information: Any other pertinent information as deemed appropriate by the FDA.


The following aspects are considered during the Compliance Review: adherence to regulatory requirements and technical standards, scientific consultations, facility profile (historical data on the manufacturing facility and the drugs produced there) and risk assessment. This rigorous review process ensures that the FDA has a comprehensive understanding of the facility’s compliance status and the potential risks involved.

FDA Inspections Classifications

After the compliance review, the FDA classifies inspections based on the state of compliance with cGMP:

Enforcement Actions

Based on the evaluation, the FDA may take various enforcement actions depending on the severity of the violations and your response.

Warning Letter: A formal written notice issued by the FDA outlining violations identified during the inspection and demanding corrective actions within a specified timeframe. It’s a public document and can damage your company’s reputation.

To know more about responding to Warning Letters, please visit 5 Essential Steps to Effectively Respond to FDA Warning Letters

Untitled Letter: A less formal letter from the FDA, typically used for minor violations related to promotional activities for prescription drugs. Unlike warning letters, untitled letters may not always be made public.

Drug Recall: Initiated when a product is found to be defective or potentially harmful, requiring its removal from the market.

Import Alerts and Detentions: Actions taken to prevent non-compliant products from entering the U.S. market.


Navigating FDA inspections doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With the right knowledge and preparation, your business can handle them with confidence and continue to thrive under strict regulatory scrutiny. Stay proactive, stay informed, and turn compliance into one of your company’s strengths.


The frequency depends on the risk associated with your product and your compliance history.

A Form FDA 483 is issued at the end of an inspection if investigators observe any conditions that may constitute violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act. It details specific observations and prompts the company’s management to take immediate corrective actions.

A Warning Letter is a formal public document outlining violations and demanding corrective actions. Untitled letters are less formal and typically address minor violations.


Nirekshana Krishnasagar

Nirekshana Krishnasagar

Computer Systems Validation Specialist