Following a five-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint this week. The blueprint builds on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), designed to advance food safety and prevent foodborne illnesses by using science and risk-based standards.
FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn noted in a recorded statement that in the months since COVID-19, “it has become even clearer – from our experiences with the pandemic and the lessons we have been learning as part of the FDA’s response to it – just how essential the actions outlined in this blueprint are and, if anything, that they are more important now than ever.”
The New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint encompasses four core elements:
Ultimately, the FDA’s goal is to have end-to-end traceability throughout the food safety system. Today, records involved with moving food through the supply chain create an inefficient and costly paper trail, and the blueprint proposes tapping into new technologies like AI, machine learning and blockchain. The goal is also to integrate data streams to identify outbreaks and trace the origin of contaminated foods to its source in minutes, or even seconds, instead of months.
“We want to explore ways to encourage companies to adopt tracing technologies and also to harmonize efforts to follow food from farm to table,” Hahn said. “We should strive to speak the same language, by espousing similar data standards across government and industry for tracking and tracing a food product.”
Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
By enhancing and strengthening root cause analyses and predictive analytics, the blueprint seeks to build on existing efforts and partner with states that have comparable regulatory and public health systems. This could also include reliable third-party audits to advance food safety.
“One of our most important resources we have today lies in our ability to unleash the power of data,” Hahn said. “The plans embraced by the blueprint include strengthening our procedures and protocols for conducting the root cause analyses that can identify how a food became contaminated and inform our understanding of how to help prevent that from happening again.”
New Business Models and Retail Modernization
As the food retail industry continues to innovate how food is produced and distributed, the blueprint seeks a course of action that would ensure food safety for new business models. This need for proper food handling has been heightened during the pandemic with the surge of online grocery shopping and third-party food delivery services such as Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash.
Working with regulatory partners and a broad array of stakeholders, the FDA is proposing to convene a new food business model summit to identify future courses of action to address potential food safety vulnerabilities.
Food Safety Culture
Noting that a strong food safety culture is necessary for effective food safety management, the blueprint proposes the development of a social marketing plan to strengthen a culture of food safety in the establishments the agency regulates and in turn, influence and sustain widespread safe-food behavior changes.
The plan takes a step further outside of the retail food space by encouraging influencers such as chefs, bloggers, cooking shows, celebrities and industry leaders to model desired safe-food behaviors and make smarter food safety part of the national dialogue and social norm.
“The pandemic has given us a new perspective on what we mean by food safety culture,” Hahn said, adding that making dramatic reductions in foodborne disease will require changes in human behavior, as well as addressing how employees think about food safety and how they demonstrate their commitment to safe food handling practices in the workplace.