October 24, 2019

A New Era of Smarter Food Safety, An FDA Initiative

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public forum in Maryland to seek perspectives of stakeholders on their upcoming initiative called “A New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” FDA gathered all sectors of the food industry to gain insights on traceability and outbreak responses, smarter tools for prevention, retail modernization and food safety culture.

Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response said, “It’s a new approach to food safety, one that builds on the progress made in the past, but also incorporates the use of new technologies that are being used. These include blockchain, sensor technology, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. ” The agency plans to release a blueprint with “critical steps to protect health and keep pace with the ever-changing global food supply chain” early next year.

Jonathan Sarager, Western Growers’ director of federal government affairs, attended the event and provided public comments:

“… for Western Growers, a trade organization that represents growers and handlers of fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Western Growers’ members grow and ship more than half the total U.S. output of fresh produce, including more than half of the organic crop. We will be responding to the request for written comments in detail, but I am here today to declare our interest in and support for “A New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” In fact, Western Growers has been working on and advocating for tools, technologies and culture relating to smarter food safety for several years now.  The key elements of a smarter food safety system as we see it are to:

 1) Shift from a snapshot-oriented, audit-driven food safety system and culture to one in which there is visibility between supply chain partners.

 2) Leverage food safety performance data out of discrete company silos and into structures which can benefit the entire industry in our constant efforts to reduce public illness.

 3) Reduce supply chain friction with new risk management tools.

 4) Drive forward higher levels of transparency for consumers.

Our work has been focused on efforts to get food safety information at the farm level off of paper and into a digital format. This will allow us to put the modern tools of artificial intelligence and machine learning to work to further understand vulnerabilities, test controls and mitigation strategies, and to ultimately help us predict and prevent food safety issues. As we progress on that effort, we are now working with trusted partners to carry that digital information into aggregated databases that can be used by Western Growers and potentially made accessible to the academic and regulatory communities for more quantitative risk analyses. In addition, that same information is valuable within the supply chain and we are working with partners to create real time red light/green light warnings that could indicate a supplier’s (or a buyer’s) failure to follow and meet established food safety specifications, whether they are set by FSMA, the LGMAs, other audit programs or individual company specifications. We think the FDA can help in these efforts by working directly with grower groups such as Western Growers to establish key needs and standards for data, developing incentive programs for data sharing and recognizing companies that are employing the highest levels of food safety. We look forward to engaging with the Agency and other stakeholders as we all strive for a “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.”