In April 2019, the FDA released the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, which outlines their approach around food safety over the next decade. The initiative builds on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and will establish a modern and efficient process to quickly solve food safety problems. This new era will highlight themes like advanced traceability, digitization, predictive analytics, and developing a smarter food safety culture. As more information becomes available, and the initiative takes effect, it will be necessary to explore these trends and their impact on the four core elements of the initiative. Below we dive into each of the core elements.
Core Element 1: Technology – Enabled Traceability
In 2022, the FDA plans to finalize the food traceability rule. Advanced traceability will be used to quickly determine the root cause of any outbreak and prevent spreading or reoccurrence. While technically a separate core element, digitization is critical to advance traceability because data must be easily and quickly accessed to complete needed root cause analyses. It is important to recognize that digitalization is an evolving process and will take time to fully implement.
Developing a platform that allows for the use of machine learning is an example of technology impacting traceability. For instance, food import data collected by inspectors could assist with the detection of potential food violations by assessing statistical measures of performance. It is important to recognize that no single source of technology is a one size fits all solution but minimizing vulnerabilities and operating with multiple systems is key.
Core Element 2: Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
The New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative is no small task, and will require government, industry, and third-party audit agencies to work together to develop creative ways to address root causes. Predictive analytic systems and communication tools are essential to identifying recall root causes, responding in a timely manner, and informing appropriate groups. Various areas are assessed when looking at food safety and incorporating predictive analytics can lead to more informed risk management decisions. For example, if a customer has purchased a recalled product, modernization of recall communication can be used to notify consumers more efficiently and prevent foodborne illness from happening or spreading.
Currently, this initiative is being tested with the FDA and their Mexican counterparts. Smarter tools have allowed for the development of an analytical outbreak response for pathogens like Cyclospora. While only implemented for a short time, the protocols have proven to be effective with outbreak detection and benefited both countries. These learnings can be applied to many pathogens and other food import partnerships.
Overall, smarter tools encompass a broad range of topics, but they share the same goal of streamlining current processes to minimize the impact of food borne illnesses and improve root cause detection.
Core Element 3: New Business Models and Retail Modernization
With the rise of eCommerce and abundance and variety of delivery methods, consumer shopping habits have changed. The new trends have led to ease and convenience for customers but have also established a new frontier that needs to be assessed for safety. The effectiveness of retail food regulatory programs and proper food handling, amongst the myriad of delivery options offered, is a crossroads for modern models and traditional safety expectations. It is imperative that these business models are evaluated to ensure food safety vulnerabilities are being addressed.
Core Element 4: Food Safety Culture
Establishing a food safety culture is a priority to ensure the quality and safety of products are maintained from the beginning of the food process to the delivery of food products to consumers in their homes. A strong culture will take time to build since research, education and industry adoption is required to truly incorporate and promote food safety (IAFP Conference 2021, ‘How Regulators are Integrating Food Safety Culture into Food Safety Performance and Assessment Strategies’). Studying the issues and collaborating with other industry players can help develop a smarter food safety culture that fits your company’s needs and the development of a new social norm.
What’s Coming Next for Smarter Food Safety?
The food, beverage, and grocery retail industries are constantly changing, and the food system in particular is expected to see many changes in the next 10 years compared to the past. Consumers are increasingly interested in where products are sourced, and the digital age has allowed recall information to spread quickly.
Even though the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint is still evolving, industries should begin assessing their current quality process and begin setting future goals. Companies should be focused on their data, which will enable their ability to enhance their digital footprint and traceability processes.
Selecting the best quality and compliance technology system for your business needs is key to creating efficiencies and minimizing compliance obstacles. By assessing your business needs, and taking into consideration your future goals, we can create a scalable quality program that will grow with your business.
While companies may vary in the scope and breadth of their quality and compliance goals, it is essential to develop and maintain food safety as a top priority.
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