FDA Announces a New Era of Smarter Food Safety

FDA Announces a New Era of Smarter Food Safety

Goal is to be people-led, FSMA-based and technology-enabled.

May 1, 2019

It’s a new era for FDA ... and the industry. On April 1, FDA announced a “New Era of Smarter Food Safety” which will augment FSMA implementation while leveraging the use of new and emerging technologies. To kick off this new focus, FDA will be developing a “Blueprint for a New Era of Smarter Food Safety” which will address traceability, digital technologies and evolving food business models. The agency also will hold a public meeting later this year to discuss smarter food safety, seek stakeholder input, and share ideas on the strategy and initiatives. 

The announcement, which came in statement from FDA Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs Ned Sharpless and Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas, notes today’s availability of food from a vast global system and the increasing innovation in agriculture, food production, and food distribution systems which “continue to provide an even greater variety of food options and delivery conveniences to American consumers.” Thus, a goal of the “new era” is that of preparing to take advantage of new opportunities and address potential risks.

The statement discussed areas in which FDA has already leveraged technology to advance food safety, especially in the use of new analytical tools, such as the development and leadership of the domestic and international effort to build the GenomeTrakr Network, a first-of-its-kind network of laboratories that can sequence the genomes of foodborne pathogens and then upload the genomic sequence and the geographic location from which the pathogen was gathered, into a publicly accessible database.

The Smarter Food Safety initiative will include

  • Food Traceability. When it comes to food traceability, many in the food system use largely paper-based systems of one forward/one back. With other industries digitally tracking the movement of planes, ride sharing and delivery of packaged goods, “it becomes clear that we must explore how these types of technologies could improve tracking when it comes to food,” the statement said, adding, “The use of new and evolving digital technologies may play a pivotal role in tracing the origin of a contaminated food to its source in minutes, or even seconds, instead of days or weeks, when contamination does occur. Access to information during an outbreak about the origin of contaminated food will help us conduct more timely root cause analysis and apply these learnings to prevent future incidents from happening in the first place.” Thus the agency will explore opportunities and specific actions to evaluate new technologies and upgrade its abilities to rapidly track and trace food through the supply chain. This work will support and be aligned with other track and trace efforts at the agency, such as our recently announced pilot programs focused on tracking the movement of medicines throughout the supply chain as part of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act.
  • Digital Technologies. Tracing is only one area where technology can enhance food safety. FDA also will look at how to leverage emerging technologies and other approaches that are being used, such as distributed ledgers, sensors, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, and assess how these technologies could create a more digital, transparent and safer food system while also addressing consumer demands for quick access to information about where their foods come from, how they’re produced and, if the food is the subject of an ongoing recall. To do that, FDA plans to conduct a pilot to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to explore new ways to enhance its review of imported foods at ports of entry. The pilot will build on FDA initiatives already under way. 
  • Evolving Food Business Models. With the rise in e-commerce of food, the way we get our food from farm to home continues to evolve. As customers are increasingly asking for food to be delivered to their homes, there are new methods, packaging materials, temperature control approaches and nodes (such as “last mile” delivery in cars and bikes) in the e-commerce food delivery system. These evolving business models present food safety challenges as well as novel considerations around regulatory framework and oversight at the federal, state and local level. FDA’s blueprint will discuss areas for collaboration in this space to identify the appropriate standard of care in this rapidly growing sector.

Acknowledging that it’s equally important for food companies of all sizes, technology firms, local and federal agencies, and other stakeholders, to join together in the effort, FDA will hold a public meeting later this year to bring various stakeholders to the table and learn more about what others are doing to create a smarter, safer food system. The agency also noted that smarter food safety is more than just technology, it’s about embracing technological advancements in ways that build upon the vision FSMA set forth. “Ultimately, for our journey toward a new era of smarter food safety to be a success, all those involved in making food products available to consumers must walk in lockstep on this path,” the statement said. Whether you’re in the private or public sector, state or federal level, all are “working for the same bosses – American consumers.”

As the statement concluded, “Welcome to the new era of smarter food safety that is people-led, FSMA-based and technology-enabled.”