What the FDA’s New Era of Food Safety Blueprint Means for Your Facility

Barry Maxon
Contributing Writer

In July of 2020, the FDA released “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint” with the goal of creating a safer, more transparent food system. This new approach to food safety comes on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis and at the cusp of what the FDA calls “a food revolution,” as production methods are evolving and manufacturers are embracing digitalization. It calls for a heavier reliance on technologies to modernize, enforce traceability, and drive efficiency across the industry. The push also encourages food and beverage companies to not only leverage digital solutions, but to weave them into their culture as a means of keeping the American food supply safe.

“It’s more important for us today than ever before in our history to work together to create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system,” says Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response.

While the shift towards digital transformation has been slowly gaining momentum for some time, the release of this official guidance is spurred by several specific factors. Specifically, the FDA notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about rapid industry changes, including the rise of e-commerce and shifts in inspection procedures. These factors have led to a need for more agile and data-driven approaches to food safety management.

According to the FDA’s vision, food and beverage companies, the government, and public health advocates will all collaborate to:

  •       Increase traceability

  •       Leverage predictive analytics

  •       Respond quickly to outbreaks

  •       Minimize food contamination

  •       Develop a food safety culture

The blueprint adds a new layer to the prevention-based approach laid out by FSMA, and aims to keep consumers informed through technology-enabled solutions. It encompasses the following four core elements, which are to be implemented over the next decade.

Core Element 1: Tech-Enabled Traceability

One of the FDA’s overarching goals is to achieve end-to-end traceability through the supply chain. To do so, the agency will finalize Section 204 of FSMA, which will outline the data elements and tracking protocols necessary for a traceable supply chain in which the source of contaminated products is identified rapidly. They also aim to achieve interoperability by working with standards bodies and tech providers.

Once the standards have been developed, the FDA will communicate the benefits of tech-enabled traceability by reaching out to stakeholders. They recognize the need for solutions that promote traceability without compromising confidentiality and proprietary interests, and will call on technology providers to offer creative solutions that deliver real value to food companies via cost-effective, scalable means.

The final component of tech-enabled traceability is to collaborate with partners at the federal, state, and local levels to develop accelerated tracebacks and trace forwards, supported by digital solutions. 

Core Element 2: Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response

Recognizing the influx of valuable data made available by modern tools, the FDA is exploring the preventive value of digital tools to improve root cause analyses. They aim to maximize the food safety reach by sharing data with states that have similar public health systems in place. The agency will collaborate with federal, state, academic, and consumer stakeholders to standardize root cause analysis protocols for food safety. With protocols for root cause analysis and improved communication tools, the agency and industry as a whole will mitigate the risk of outbreaks using a ranking and predictive analytical system based on key data. With that being said, an important goal will be striking the balance between transparency and data confidentiality.

The agency is also calling for the use of non-traditional data sources to further refine risk management decisions. For instance, in addition to characterizing hazards via predictive toxicology tools, they recommend predictive data modeling based on wind, temperature, and other environmental factors for an even more complete picture of how foodborne illnesses develop.

While preventing and responding to outbreaks is indeed one of the most powerful applications for food safety technology, the FDA acknowledges that it will take some work to achieve industry-wide adoption. They propose training and education strategies, as well as an integrated approach to planning and risk management.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency is calling for proof-of-concepts to test virtual inspections of both domestic and foreign companies. Some importers have already undergone remote inspections, and it’s likely this trend will only increase. To achieve this, the agency must modernize their mobile inspection and digital reporting technology. In terms of tools at the company level, they recommend manufacturers leverage sensor technology to strengthen their preventive controls monitoring.

Finally, the FDA aims to modernize their response to outbreaks as well as the processes surrounding recalls. By mining nontraditional data sources, refining food testing, and improving early warning mechanisms, the agency looks to respond to outbreaks more rapidly. They also aim to collaborate with the USDA to find new ways for communicating recall information to consumers, whether that may be via social media, text messages, or another technology. For instance, the blueprint proposes a United States Government (USG) app to provide consumers with real-time alerts.

Core Element 3: New Business Models & Retail Modernization

The COVID-19 pandemic drove a tremendous shift in the way consumers shop for food. Web-based purchases for groceries and meals rose significantly, and with this new business model came a need for new standards to protect against contamination and other risk factors. Additionally, new delivery models have emerged, and with the constant influx of new ingredients and production practices, the FDA aims to establish safety protocols that keep pace with this rapidly changing industry landscape.

Who “owns” food just before it reaches consumers? Whether it’s DoorDash, Uber Eats, or even a courier service such as FedEx or UPS, the agency recognizes a need to educate any party transporting food on proper handling practices. They propose a summit in which food safety stakeholders and regulatory partners will come together to identify potential weak points and future best practices for addressing new business models across the industry. Again, they advocate for the implementation of food safety technology to identify and monitor risk factors, such as temperature variations and tampering.

It’s not only new business models that demand attention, however. The FDA also aims to bring traditional food retail up to speed with solutions such as smart kitchen equipment that automate monitoring of key data such as time and temperature, along with other digital tools that encourage strong food safety practices. Enhanced training will follow, as will further research to optimize retail food safety.

Core Element 4: Food Safety Culture

The final element of the blueprint calls for a stronger food safety culture in which the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of employees become dedicated to risk mitigation across the industry. They call on influencers, including bloggers and celebrity chefs, to advocate for food safety, and aim to leverage education and inspection tools that facilitate safe food practices. This prioritization of food safety will continue to be the primary mission for the FDA, and will also be encouraged at the consumer level through new campaigns rolled out via digital platforms.

Entering the New Era of Food Safety with SafetyChain

While the FDA is just now calling for an industry-wide digital transformation, this isn’t a new concept for SafetyChain. In fact, marrying food safety with technology is the very fabric of what we do. And using real time data and technology to drive preventive actions is at the heart of our systems. With a highly configurable, cloud-based solution, we give food and beverage manufacturers real-time visibility into every level of their operations to not only better manage food safety programs, but also enhance overall performance. Features such as real-time specification verification, real time trend analysis and automated audits enable compliance across regulatory and non-regulatory programs, while driving paperless systems that ensure convenience, accuracy, and traceability. And as the industry moves towards block chain like systems, SafetyChain’s digital records will allow you to easily plug-n-play with anyone’s blockchain. 

As the FDA looks to expand their initiatives by encouraging the adoption of digital technologies, solutions like SafetyChain will help companies stay at the forefront of food safety success in the coming decade. Find out more about how our platform helps plants excel in food safety and overall performance here.