The First 100 Days of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety
The FDA hosted a webinar this week taking a retrospective look at the first 100 days of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, in addition to exploring how the initiative and blueprint will continue to build towards its key goals.
FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas led the event, which brought visibility into the two-year roadmap for the agency, and underscored how progress that has already been made fits into the FDA’s broader strategic approach to food safety and technological advancements in the food system, since the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint was published.
The webinar was also an opportunity for CORE element teams to provide updates on the four pillars of this initiative including: Tech-Enabled Traceability and Foodborne Outbreak Response, Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention, Adapting to New Business Models and Retail Food Safety Modernization, and Food Safety Culture.
New Food Safety Paradigms
The New Era of Smarter Food Safety promotes an integrated approach to food safety, and considers the entire food industry ecosystem while promoting values for technological advancements within the food system. The initiative goes beyond supporting regulation compliance to shifting understanding around emerging technologies, and promoting an industry culture that strives for efficiency and transparency. The speakers at the webinar pushed listeners to consider: how can we conceive of our work differently so that our food system is more effective and safe?
Deputy Director of CORE, CFSAN Kari Irvin, who leads the initiative’s tech-enabled traceability initiative, highlighted that technology can be an asset to food companies, rather than a roadblock. Irvin spoke to the creative possibilities of using technologies, and the importance of understanding what tools are already available. From barcoding and RFID scanning technologies being used to identify the source of a bag of lettuce, to building consumer apps that alert consumers when they purchase a recalled item or when food has reached cook-safe temperatures, advancements are achievable with the technologies on the market today.
Irvin’s team is laser focused on farm-to-fork traceability, starting with laying a foundation for harmonizing Key Data Elements (KDEs) and Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) throughout the industry. This, paired with adoption of cost-effective traceability technologies, will not only make interoperability possible, but help scale food traceability as well. The vision, ultimately, is to close the loop and enable new use cases and investigation methodologies for foodborne outbreaks.
As part of the smarter tools for prevention and response CORE focus area for the initiative, stakeholders across the industry will also be encouraged to adopt a data sharing mindset. The FDA is firm in the belief that this is an area where the industry will benefit from being collaborative, rather than competitive, and share in the insights gained from broader visibility into the food system. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such a mindset has already started to become status quo as food businesses have been more reliant than ever on clear communication and effective supply chain relationships.
Where We Are, and Where We’re Going
In the first 100 days since the blueprint was published, much has already been done to lay the groundwork for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety. In July, a Leafy Greens Tracing Pilot was launched to evaluate the efficacy and potential of tools like the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) Traceback Template. The pilot is nearly complete, and a report is coming soon with their findings. In August, the FDA also initiated an independent outbreak response process review for tracing activities. These exercises will help provide a litmus test for where the industry is today, and provide clearer frameworks for how to approach the development of more advanced procedures.
Chief amongst accomplishments from the first 100 days was the publication of a new proposed traceability recordkeeping rule, and the announcement of corresponding public meetings for commentary on the drafted legislation. The rule specifies new timelines, KDEs and CTEs for recordkeeping requirements, and stipulates the food products that will be affected in the Food Traceability List (FTL). The rule, which will eventually be published under FSMA section 204, has been developed with the goal to lay a stronger foundation for food traceability and interoperability within the industry.
FoodLogiQ’s VP of Supply Chain Strategy and Insights Julie McGill will be presenting with Avery Dennison’s Technology Development & Printer Research Manager Jeanne Duckett on the proposed rule on October 29th at RFID Journal Live. The session, FDA Blueprint and FSMA 204: Win-Win for Profitability, Transparency and Consumer Safety, will explore the difference between inventory visibility and traceability; explain the FDA Blueprint for Smarter Food Safety; and dive into the business benefits of traceability and how standards enable business processes by lowering the cost of adoption and removing barriers. They will also discuss how to build a common language and explore the digital-to-physical connection. This timely presentation will coincide with the FDA’s guidance on traceability recordkeeping for high-risk foods, the Section 204 Food Safety Modernization Act, and the USDA drive for transparency for organic products.
The Road Ahead for 2021 and Beyond
The immediate roadmap focuses heavily on the finalization of the Food Traceability Rule. Public comments in response to the proposed rule are due January 21, 2021, after which the rule will be finalized. Once ratified, the proposed rule states there will be a 60-day grace period and a two-year implementation period until compliance is required. While the rule currently will apply to the FTL, the broader vision for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety is inclusive of addressing the way food businesses exchange, monitor and build protections around all food products.
The FDA will also be furthering their work with new pilots, as well as discussions with domestic and international stakeholders around data harmonization. Traceability pilots, interoperability pilots, AI pilots on retrospective data as well as screening pilots are all on the horizon and are already showing promising results. In parallel, the FDA will be engaging with partners and encouraging the development of simple, low-cost solutions to promote tech-enabled traceability.