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FDA rolls out new blueprint for food safety

Goals include traceability in minutes and adapting for new business models like cell-cultured food products.

Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn announced the release of the "New Era of Smarter Food Safety" blueprint on July 13. The blueprint represents a new approach to food safety, leveraging technology and other tools to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system, Hahn said.

The blueprint, which is posted on FDA.gov, outlines a path forward that builds on the work the FDA has already done through implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The blueprint outlines the work FDA plans to undertake over the next decade to modernize food safety approaches and bend the curve of foodborne illness. It includes work to enhance traceability, improve predictive analytics, respond more rapidly to outbreaks, address new business models, reduce contamination of food and foster the development of stronger food safety cultures.

The "New Era of Smarter Food Safety" blueprint is centered around four core elements: (1) tech-enabled traceability, (2) smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response, (3) new business models and retail modernization and (4) food safety culture.

While FDA had originally planned to unveil the blueprint in the spring of 2020, plans were placed on pause so FDA could focus on COVID-19 pandemic response efforts. 

“This crisis has highlighted some challenges and has underscored the need for modern approaches as we respond to unique demands on our food system and work to ensure that the food supply remains safe and strong, now more than ever,” FDA said in its blueprint. “With the pandemic have come unprecedented imbalances in the marketplace, changing consumer behaviors and a rise in e-commerce and challenges in performing inspection and compliance work in FDA’s traditional manner.”

FDA said the pandemic demonstrated the need for more real-time, data-driven, nimble approaches to help ensure a strong and resilient food system and keep all Americans safe during a crisis, whether they are federal employees, food industry workers or consumers.

“During the pandemic, we realized that widespread traceability provides greater supply chain visibility. This, in turn, can help the FDA and the food industry anticipate the kind of imbalances in the marketplace that led to temporary shortages of certain commodities and created food waste when producers lost customers because restaurants, schools and other sites temporarily closed,” Hahn said in announcing the  blueprint. “In addition, enhanced traceability, coupled with advanced analytical tools, could help us spot potential problems in advance and help us prevent or lessen their impact.”

FDA envisions a framework that will enable food to be traced to its source in seconds and will utilize new data analytical techniques to strengthen prevention of foodborne illnesses, alerting consumers in real time before contaminated or misbranded foods are consumed. “We envision a framework in which education, communication and democratization of data will enable industry, public health advocates and government to work in concert to keep the food supply safe,” the blueprint notes.

Ultimately, FDA wants to have end-to-end traceability throughout the food safety system. The blueprint calls for a review of FDA's current outbreak response and recall protocols to optimize how the agency makes traceback requests of firms and receives information in digital form.

FDA noted that it is looking to address how to protect foods from contamination as new business models emerge and change to meet the needs of the modern consumer. The evolution of how food gets from farm to table continues with the emergence of e-commerce and new delivery models that advance innovations in novel ingredients, new foods and new food production systems. These new business models include online shopping for meals and groceries -- a practice that has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A core element of the blueprint involves FDA’s ability to draw on the power of new data streams.

“One of our most important resources we have today lies in our ability to unleash the power of data,” Hahn said. “We intend to do everything we can to attain better-quality data, conduct a more meaningful analysis of it and transform streams of data into more meaningful, strategic and prevention-oriented actions.”

FDA also said new business models include novel ways of producing foods and ingredients, such as cell-cultured food products, and FDA said it plans to take a close look at these. “We intend to ensure that as food technology evolves, our oversight evolves along with it to help ensure food safety,” Hahn said.

TAGS: Policy
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