During the first few months of 2020, FDA will publish a blueprint detailing new standards under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and industry insiders expect the legislation to place heavy emphasis on automated methods of food traceability to address safety challenges.
Although the exact details are still in the works, Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response, says the move is in response to the flat foodborne illness curve. The CDC estimates that approximately 48 million people in the U.S. are sickened by foodborne diseases every year. Of that, 128,000 are hospitalized and approximately 3,000 die. These illnesses are largely believed to be preventable.
Frank Balestreri, an audit partner with California-based accounting and consulting firm Sensiba San Filippo, which helps food industry leaders formulate strategic business plans, said the new standards are based on five big-picture words: plan, prevention, controls, monitoring, and traceability. He tells Food Quality & Safety that the way the food industry grows, transports (field to factory), produces, transports again (factory to shelf), and consumes food has changed significantly in recent years, and the FDA needed to update its policies.
“These changes were brought about to modernize and strengthen the food safety system and better protect the public,” Balestreri says. “We are a global economy and products are sourced from all over the world. That is why we don’t necessarily have seasonal food items any more. Outside of the U.S., food safety standards may not be on par with what is required in the U.S., and that is changing.”
He notes that this a critical issue now because the FDA needs to ensure that the food we eat is safe. “With proper traceability, companies can locate product at any point along the supply chain. This is all about being prepared in case of emergency,” Balestreri says. “A food safety event is a critical event for a company. If handled incorrectly, it can lead to lawsuits and brand damage that a company can’t recover from. Companies need to be able to quickly and confidently determine that they have an issue under control and need to convey that to the public. Ultimately, this can reduce the cost of an incident.”
While they wait for the official FDA announcement, food companies should be preparing for what’s to come. Balestreri suggests having a written safety plan in place and being diligent with training staff and ensuring they are following proper food safety guidelines.
He says that a lot of the need for the update is centered around prevention. “What can we do today to prevent issues tomorrow?” he says. “Investing in systems is a key piece of this as well. There are many cost-effective alternatives out there that can help companies maintain compliance with the FSMA rules.”