Frank Yiannas Opens GS1 Connect: Digital Edition with a Continued Focus on Tech-Enabled Traceability
Frank Yiannas discussed the New Era of Smarter Food Safety in a post-COVID world, the importance of tech-enabled traceability, and the shared value of a digital supply chain during the GS1 Connect: Digital Edition keynote.
GS1 Connect: Digital Edition launched today, kicking off a virtual rendition of the organization’s annual conference. The event is dedicated to topics surrounding the role of supply chain and unique identification, how GS1 Standards help organizations adapt and collaborate, as well as exploring how supply chain advancements relate to the ever-changing consumer experience. This year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has taken on a new digital format with a hybrid of live and recorded content for attendees to engage with at-will. FoodLogiQ’s own Vice President of Supply Chain Strategy and Insights Julie McGill will be speaking at this year's event on traceability during her presentation, The New Era to the New Normal.
Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the FDA, joined GS1 US President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Carpenter for a lengthy discussion on the state of a food industry heavily impacted by the current global health crisis, as well as focal points of the FDA’s evolving initiative on a New Era of Smarter Food Safety.
Smarter Food Safety in a Post-COVID World
In 2019, the FDA announced the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, outlining a blueprint to drive industry regulation forward and to “leverage technology, and other tools, to create a more digital, traceable and safer food system.” The food industry has since been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and government attention has been dedicated to addressing the immediate and numerous risks presented by the current health crisis. However, the crisis has also highlighted the value and importance of the core tenets of the New Era initiative.
During the keynote discussion, Yiannas spoke to the acceleration of the digital industry, with online purchasing predicted to comprise $1 of every $5 spent on food by 2023, rather than by 2025 as first predicted. Yiannas indicated that the industry may reach and sustain this milestone far sooner, given the dramatic shifts in purchasing trends resulting from social distancing measures. The focus on new business models as part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety will help support the industry in light of these consumer trends.
Yiannas also spoke to the importance of building a food safety culture. During a time of virtual inspections, remote auditing and increased overall risk, industry buy-in for food safety has been essential in maintaining safer work conditions and food purchasing environments. While the FDA hasn’t published research in this area, Yiannas proposed that organizations with a strong food safety culture may have been more resilient in responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19. He recognized that creating a new culture, and addressing the “soft stuff,” is no small feat, but that this work is essential for protecting the well-being of consumers and workers.
Another key aspect of the New Era — smarter tools for prevention — can help enforce food safety more effectively. With the supply chain disruption and disarray caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in full view, prevention and next-gen detection methods appear to be a central focal point for the FDA. Yiannas spoke repeatedly about the successes of leveraging machine learning to detect areas of risk in the supply chain, and indicated that this would play an important role in the future of the food system. These models provide visibility into the supply chain and are made possible by digitization and traceability efforts enabled by technology.
“At the end of the day, the FDA is responsible for regulating establishments and regulating food products,” said Yiannas. “This new digital world that’s emerging is good for compliance, safety and trust. Now, rather than just writing rules on how facilities should operate and having some weak paper-based records to see how products travel through the supply chain — which you can never do in real-time — we now have the ability to digitize assets...and be able to monitor it almost in real time. That’s an exciting world from an efficiency, sustainability and safety standpoint.”
The Importance of Tech-Enabled Traceability
Yiannas, who has spent much of his career in the private sector, was enthusiastic about the role of technology in advancing food supply chain traceability. The New Era of Smarter Food Safety will continue to build off of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Section 204, which covers the tracking and tracing of food and record-keeping.
Yiannas indicated that there will be a push to provide greater specificity around how to move past a one-up-one-back traceability model, and that standards outlined by bodies like GS1 will play a central role in enabling supply chain interoperability. Yiannas remains “technology agnostic” at this juncture, indicating that the focus is on advancing traceability and incentivizing digitization, regardless of the specific technology being used. The FDA is required to release an update on Section 204 in September of 2020, which may include more information around Key Data Elements and Critical Tracking Events that businesses should use to track products within the food system.
“If you look at some of the big food crises of our day, whether it was (contaminated) romaine lettuce (2018 and 2019) or the spinach (E.coli outbreak) in 2006, all those crises had one common problem: a lack of traceability. There’s more to come on that, but we’re on track for Section 204.”
An Integrated Food System: Shared Cost, Shared Value
To create adoption, finally, Yiannas spoke to the shared cost and shared value of traceability enabled by technology. Ultimately, an efficient, digital food system is one that benefits every member of the industry, in addition to the general public. “If we do this right,” Yiannas says, “It takes cost out of the system.”
Yiannas explained that each stakeholder can benefit from an intelligent food system in a wide variety of ways, if the industry takes a holistic approach. For example:
- Retailers will be able to reduce waste by having greater visibility into product movement;
- Produce sellers will not have to categorically recall an item when there is an outbreak originating from a different source;
- Stakeholders will benefit from automatic payments and a smarter ability to redirect inventory;
- Supplier won’t be unfairly penalized for the shelf-life of produce that has not been distributed in a temperature-controlled environment.
“The need to digitize the food system will only get stronger,” said Yiannas. Leveraging a shared language, like those outlined in GS1 standards, is an important first step, but it is only the beginning. The New Era of Smarter Food Safety can help push the food system forward to be more proactive, prediction-driven, humane and efficient, but it all starts with scalable communication protocols.