The new guidelines for smarter food: FDA’s Blueprint for Food Safety
In July, FDA published its long-discussed Blueprint for the Future: New Era of Smarter Food Safety. The blueprint focused on four core elements — Tech-Enabled Traceability, Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response, New Business Models and Retail Modernization, and Food Safety Culture — held no real surprises for anyone who has been tracking with any of this since it was first announced in April 2019.
The blueprint provides more detail on the directions FDA would like the industry to take, gives us some ideas of what FDA sees as critical to food safety for the next decade, and places a strong focus on traceability and the integration of technology and predictive analytics in all areas.
While 2020 has brought with it significant challenges, particularly for the management and essential personnel of the food industry, those challenges also are providing us with new learnings that are as applicable to issues of food safety as they are to the public health aspects of COVID-19. With the essential needs of both being the protection of people and prevention of outbreaks, the elements of the first two core elements of FDA’s blueprint focused on traceability and outbroke prevention and response, are similarly applicable. And because of that, practices, processes, and technologies developed and implemented to reduce and predict the spread of the pandemic can be applied to food safety and traceability in the food supply chain as well.
New Era of Food Safety Blueprint
The New Era of Food Safety Blueprint includes four core elements as its foundational pillars. The features cover the range of technologies, analytics, business models, modernization, and values that are its building blocks. Some key points of each of the four elements, in brief, are:
Tech-Enabled Traceability. With an ultimate goal of end-to-end traceability, new technologies would be implemented and data streams integrated to identify outbreaks and trace the origin of contaminated food to its source in minutes, or even seconds, speeding the response when public health is at risk. This is to include the development of foundational components (as required by FSMA), encouraging and incentivizing industry adoption of new technologies, and leveraging the digital transformation.
Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
As more data streams and tools for rapidly analyzing data become available, the goal is to determine how predictive analytics tools can best be used to identify when and where contamination might be likely to occur, prevent contaminated products from entering the food supply, and target efforts to remove the potentially contaminated product from the market. These will also inform the regulatory approach to inspections, outbreak response, and recall modernization. Specific strategies focus on: invigorating root cause analyses; strengthening of predictive analytics capabilities; domestic mutual reliance; and inspection, training, and compliance tools.
New Business Models and Retail Modernization
Intending to address how to protect foods from contamination as new business models emerge and change to meet the needs of the modern consumer, FDA will be exploring the best ways to modernize further and help ensure the safety of foods sold at restaurants and other retail establishments. Approaches are to include: ensuring the safety of food produced or delivered using new business models and modernizing traditional retail food safety approaches.
Food Safety Culture
Because dramatic improvements in reducing the burden of foodborne disease cannot be made without doing more to influence and change human behaviour, FDA will foster, support, and strengthen food safety culture at farms, food facilities, and homes. Approaches are to include: promote food safety culture throughout the food system, further promote food safety culture throughout the FDA, and develop and promote a smarter food-safety consumer education campaign.
It is just these types of learnings from both internal and external industry incidents and events to which FDA’s statement on Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response applies: “To fully realize a preventive controls system that rapidly incorporates new knowledge, it is important to ask how we can make processes and communications more effective, efficient, and in some cases, simpler.” This is particularly applicable in its further states that it is essential to have “alternate approaches when traditional methods cannot be carried out during a public health crisis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic, and its mid-summer resurgence, has shown us, we need to get out in front of an issue before it develops into a nearly intractable problem — which may involve significant, widespread behaviour change. And whether talking public health or food safety, we need to leverage all data that can be collected in ways that can help reduce and manage the risks.