The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, a plan that builds on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Where the FSMA was established to better ensure the safety of food and prevent foodborne illnesses through the use of science and risk-based standards, the blueprint represents the next stage in the process focusing on traceability, technology, and evolving business models.

The blueprint was created by FDA leadership, their staffs, as well as 1,500 stakeholders including food safety experts, the food industry, tech companies, and public health officials from all over the world.

Plans for the “New Era” were originally announced in spring 2019 following an E.coli outbreak traced to leafy greens and romaine lettuce with a goal of launching it in March 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put the launch on hold. On July 13, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn gave the green light for the blueprint to proceed.

“In the months that have followed, it has become even clearer — from our experiences with the pandemic and the lessons we have been learning as part of the FDA’s response to it — just how essential the actions outlined in this blueprint are and, if anything, that they are more important now, than ever,” Hahn said.

Core elements

The core elements of the blueprint include tech enabled traceability, smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response, new business models and retail modernization, and food safety culture.

Tech-enabled traceability, Hahn said, “is one of those areas that we’ve learned during the pandemic has utility beyond our response to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.” The FDA is working with industry to rapidly trace contaminated food to its source in minutes as opposed to days, weeks, or longer. This involves exploring ways to encourage companies to adopt tracing technologies and also to harmonize efforts to follow food from farm to table.

The blueprint also aims to do everything it can to attain better quality data, conduct a more meaningful analysis of it, and to transform streams of data into more meaningful, strategic, and prevention-oriented actions. This means strengthening procedures and protocols to better identify how food became contaminated and how to prevent it from happening again.

The new business models and retail modernization practices component of the blueprint focuses on ensuring the safety of foods amid emerging trends, such as the growing practice of ordering groceries and meals online and having them delivered at home to comply with stay-at-home recommendations. But it also includes novel ways of producing foods and ingredients, such as cell-cultured food products. “We intend to ensure that as food technology evolves, our oversight evolves along with it, to help ensure food safety,” Hahn said.

Finally, the blueprint also focuses on fostering the growth of and strengthening the food safety culture on farms and in food facilities all around the world. “The importance of having a safety culture is something very familiar to me as the administrator of a medical center, as this is a central tenet in efforts to protect hospital patients,” he said. “The pandemic has given us a new perspective of what we mean by food safety culture.”

Food safety culture

The blueprint doesn’t only rely on the food industry to make changes. The FDA will also look within its own ranks to see how the agency can approach issues differently to better support and advance each of the priority areas of the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety Initiative.”

“We know from our experience during the pandemic that the blueprint involves ideas whose time has come,” Hahn said. “Implementing them will strengthen our ability to protect the food supply in good times and bad. And it will allow us to change as our world changes and the challenges and opportunities of food technology evolve.

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