Supermarket Perimeter - September 2020 - 59

THE FOOD WORLD IS RAPIDLY CHANGING, particularly when it
comes to food safety.
That was true even before COVID-19 hit. With the world now in the
midst of the pandemic, keeping people and the foods they eat safe has
become a matter of life and death.
The US Food and Drug Administration couldn't have known in
advance how timely its long-awaited New Era of Food Safety blueprint
would be. Released this summer, the ambitious effort aims to bring
some more stability and reassurance to a changed world.
The blueprint outlines the approach the FDA will take over the next
decade to respond to, and help usher in, a new era of food safety.
It includes achievable goals to enhance traceability, improve predictive
analytics, respond more rapidly to outbreaks, address new business
models, reduce contamination of food, and foster the development of
stronger food safety cultures. It also outlines a partnership between the
government, industry and public health advocates.
"The world around us is changing rapidly - many believe we will see
more changes in the food system over the next 10 years than we have
in decades," according to the report. "Foods are being reformulated;
there are new foods, new production methods, and new delivery
methods; and the system is becoming increasingly digitized."
Smarter food safety is about more than just technology, according
to FDA officials. It's also about simpler, more effective, and modern
approaches and processes - and leadership, creativity and culture.
"Our ultimate goal is to bend the curve of foodborne illness in this
country by reducing the number of illnesses. This outlines a partnership
between government, industry and public health advocates based on a
commitment to create a more modern approach to food safety."
The challenges that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic have
accelerated the need for actions called for in the blueprint, especially in
times of crisis, said Stephen Hahn, the FDA's commissioner.
The New Era of Food Safety blueprint represents the next stage in
the process, Hahn said - a commitment the government is making
to the American people promising to work as fast and effectively as it
can to help ensure that the United States has the safest food system in
the world.
"We'll do this in part by incorporating the use of the most modern
technologies that are already in use in society and the business sector,"
he said. "Some of this innovation is already creating a revolution
in food production, supply and delivery. These developments offer
great opportunity, but also pose many challenges, some of which are
complicated by an increasingly complex global supply chain."
While the New Era program has a strong emphasis in the application
of new technology, Hahn pointed out that it's not just about technology.
"It's about using that technology to build and put in place more
effective approaches and processes," he said. "The first is tech-enabled
traceability. This is one of those areas that we've learned during the
pandemic has utility beyond our response to outbreaks of foodborne
illness."
One of the challenges the food industry has faced over the years is
recurring outbreaks of illnesses associated with the consumption of
certain foods, Hahn said. What that problem underscores is the critical
importance of the FDA working with industry so that it can rapidly trace
a contaminated food to its source.

"And when I say rapidly, I mean minutes, not days, weeks, or even
longer," Hahn said.
The FDA is committed to exploring new ways to encourage
companies to adopt tracing technologies and also to harmonize efforts
to follow food from farm to table, he added. The FDA, "should strive to
speak the same language, by espousing similar data standards across
government and industry for tracking and tracing a food product."
During the pandemic, the FDA and its industry partners realized that
widespread traceability provides greater supply chain visibility. This,
in turn, Hahn said, can help the FDA and the food industry anticipate
the kind of imbalances in the marketplace that led to temporary
shortages of certain commodities and created food waste when
producers lost customers because restaurants, schools, and other sites
temporarily closed.
"In addition, enhanced traceability, coupled with advanced analytical
tools, could help us spot potential problems in advance and help us
prevent or lessen their impact," Hahn said.

One goal of the FDA's ambitious new food safety plan is to reduce traceability
times during outbreaks from weeks or months to hours or minutes.

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