In 2011, the United States government passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to help better control and prevent the widespread distribution of unsafe food products. This bill represented the biggest change in food safety policies in nearly 70 years in the United States. FSMA allowed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have greater visibility over all aspects of food production and aimed to shift the paradigm of the industry towards a preventative mindset, as opposed to the reactive approach that had been standard for many decades.
FSMA drove home the importance of accurate monitoring and record-keeping for food ingredients during all stages of the supply chain. Records proving a product was safe during the time of shipment not only protects consumers but also serves to protect companies from blame that may be passed after ingredients are combined into a finished product and distributed to the public – should that product at some point become contaminated. The law greatly increased the FDA’s ability to perform food safety inspections on both foreign and domestic manufacturing and processing facilities. As a result, standardization of these record-keeping processes became critical, as proof of accurate data may be requested by the FDA at any time.
As we move into the next decade and work through the challenges and lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA has released a refreshed blueprint to drive the industry toward even more modern approaches that match the needs of our present-day supply chain. This blueprint outlines the approach FDA will take over the next decade to usher in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety. It will evolve as food technologies and the food system evolves. It builds on work that has been done to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act.
This New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint prioritizes four key elements:
- Tech-Enabled Traceability
- Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
- New Business Models and Retail Modernization
- Food Safety Culture
The FDA also offers these practical examples to help readers envision a future where these aspirations have become the norm. Imagine:
- Scanning a bag of lettuce and being able to immediately know where it came from to determine if it’s tied to an outbreak of foodborne illness.
- Receiving a text message that lets you know you’ve purchased something that’s been recalled.
- Having greater confidence in the safety of the food you share with your family because artificial intelligence has enabled FDA to significantly increase its predictive capability of finding contaminated food.
- Knowing the potential impact of weather events, like hurricanes or floods, on the safety of foods hundreds of miles or more away because of big data analytics.
- Knowing that the water used to grow the produce you’re buying is safe because it was monitored by the farmer in real-time using sensor monitoring on a smart device.
- Receiving alerts on your smartphone when your dinner has reached a safe temperature.
- Knowing that the workers in your favorite restaurant use safe-food handling practices, not because they’re required to but because the workplace culture has made it second nature for them.
As with any change to the status quo, this new FDA guidance will undoubtedly have a ripple effect, causing companies to experience challenges for which they’ll need to develop solutions. However, with the proper research and sourcing, these changes can provide an excellent opportunity to introduce new technology into the food production supply chain, helping prevent food-borne illnesses and leading to a healthier, safer American food system.