By Janet Woodcock, MD, Acting Food and Drug Commissioner, and Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response
A year ago, the United States Food and Drug Administration released the A New Era for a Smarter Food Safety Master Plan. Over the past 12 months, we have made significant progress in achieving the goals outlined in the Blueprint, even in the midst of a pandemic.
The plan gives shape to the Smarter New Era Food Safety Initiative that the FDA announced in April 2019 to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment in which foods are reformulated, new foods and new production methods are being implemented, and food delivery systems continue to develop. ‘to evolve.
By the time the plan was released last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear the time had come for the new era of smarter food security. We have learned from our response as an agency to the pandemic that there is an accelerated need for certain goals in this master plan, particularly those involving supply chain continuity and resilience, inspection approaches. modernized, strengthening of food safety infrastructure with regulatory partners and food safety. ordered by consumers online.
We also recognize that the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative advances the agency-wide commitment to modernize data and improve inspections, priorities reinforced in the Data Modernization Action Plan (DMAP) and Resilience Roadmap for FDA Inspection Oversight released in March and May respectively.
The New Era Plan, DMAP and the Roadmap for Resilience are elements of a single FDA approach to protect consumers and public health.
Improved food traceability
A priority of the FDA’s 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the New Era of Smarter Food Safety is to advance food traceability to quickly identify where contaminated food has been grown or produced and expedite recalls if necessary. The first step towards this goal was taken when, in September 2020, the FDA released the document mandated by the FSMA Proposed food traceability rule and a proposed list of foods for which the additional record keeping requirements of the rule would apply. The proposed rule sets out the key data elements and critical monitoring events for better traceability of these listed foods. We have held three public meetings on the proposed rule and plan to release a final version of the rule at the end of 2022.
We learned during the pandemic that improved traceability could allow industry and regulators to anticipate disruptions in the food supply chain and possibly avoid the kind of food waste we saw in the early months. of the pandemic. As stated in the DMAP, the ability to track and trace products is essential, whether it is to quickly recall a contaminated product or to transform the way supply chains respond to national emergencies.
Our ultimate goal, as outlined in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, is end-to-end traceability throughout the food system, and we are taking steps to ensure that tracing solutions are cost effective for food operations. of all sizes. In June, the FDA launched the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Low-Cost or No-Cost Technology Traceability Challenge. Until July 30, the agency is calling for the submission of food traceability solutions that use business models that are affordable even for the smallest producers and can expand to some of the larger companies, all with the aim of encouraging widespread adoption.
DMAP notes the importance of using data from new sources to better understand emerging threats to public health. The New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint also calls for data analysis to build predictive capabilities and make more informed risk management decisions.
To this end, the FDA has created a new data analysis tool called 21 Forward to help identify where there might be disruptions in the continuity of the food supply due to food worker absences due of the pandemic. We are using COVID-19 human transmission forecast data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify areas where COVID-19 could impact key segments of the food system. The tool is also populated by the estimated number and breakdown of food and agriculture employees who work in food facilities regulated by the FDA.
We also provide data from 21 Forward to help states plan vaccine distribution to food and agricultural workers. The 21 Forward data helps national and local authorities determine how many of these essential workers they have in each county and where these workers are located. 21 Forward data is also part of a broader federal effort support COVID-19 vaccination migrant and seasonal workers in the agriculture and food sector.
Both DMAP and the New Era Plan highlight the importance of our pilot project that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to strengthen our ability to predict which imported food shipments have the greatest risk of violation. and use this information to better target imports. review resources.
Early findings focused on imported seafood indicate that this tool could dramatically increase our ability to know which of the millions of shipments to review, as they are more likely to have non-compliant products. The second phase of this pilot was launched in February, applying the AI ââmodel to field conditions.
In addition to using the data to further strengthen a risk-based approach to deploying inspection resources, the New Era plan calls for an exploration of other ways to conduct inspections. This plan was implemented out of necessity during the pandemic when routine surveillance inspections were temporarily suspended last year to protect our workforce before resuming in July 2020.
In April 2020, we began remote inspections of importers subject to the requirements of overseas supplier verification programs. The FSVP rule established by the FSMA allows the FDA to electronically request registrations from importers to ensure their foreign food suppliers meet U.S. safety standards. In doing so, we have performed a record number of FSVP inspections since March 2020 – over 1,600.
The FDA Inspection Oversight Resilience Roadmap cited these remote inspections of importers as critical to the FDA’s efforts to help ensure the safety of imported food and feed during the pandemic.
Curving the Foodborne Illness Curve
We were able to move forward with a plan launched in the heart of the pandemic. This is a testament to the dedication of FDA staff and the commitment to public health demonstrated by our regulatory partners at all levels of government, in this country and in other countries.
It is also a testament to the food industry‘s commitment to protecting consumers. Many of New Era’s goals will be implemented by the industry and we have seen an impressive level of engagement from organizations representing farmers, manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders. Our plans also bring in new partners, such as technology companies.
We have further progress to report in our work to ensure the safety of foods ordered online and those sold in traditional retail establishments, as well as progress in promoting the culture of food safety. For more information, please visit A new era of smarter food security page on fda.gov. And see the list of New era of activities selected for smarter food safety for 2021.
By working together, we will curving the curve of foodborne illness in this country, using the right technology, the best data and the most consistent surveillance. Consumers deserve no less.
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