Editor’s note: As Food Quality & Safety celebrates 30 years of publication, we think it’s fitting to examine the major food safety events of the period and to highlight the extraordinary efforts to make food safer over the last three decades. In this important retrospective, you’ll hear food safety experts discuss—decade by decade—the monumental outbreaks, regulations, and technologies that played pivotal roles in advancing food safety, often sharing events they were there to witness and shape. In this article, we take a look at the 2010s. Our other articles look at the 1990s and the 2000s.
Although it’s undeniable that food safety has made progress in the past 30 years, what hasn’t changed is that regulations are updated or improved upon as a reaction to an outbreak, crisis, or tragedy, says Mitzi D. Baum, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness in Chicago. “Shifting the ingrained cultures of regulatory agencies from reactivity to prevention continues to be elusive, although there was much optimism that change would occur when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) became law in 2011,” Baum says. FSMA’s basic tenet is a proactive approach to food safety.
Numerous outbreaks, recalls, and other food safety events culminated in FSMA’s passing when Michael Taylor, JD, was FDA’s deputy commissioner. “The breadth of food system stakeholders—industry, consumer groups, and policymakers—all supported its passage, funding, and implementation,” says Jennifer McEntire, PhD, founder of Food Safety Strategy, a consulting firm based in Frederick, Md.
FSMA is widely considered to be the most sweeping update of the U.S. food regulatory system in decades, Dr. McEntire says. It required FDA to issue rules governing produce safety on farms as well as the safety of imported products and required registered facilities to assess and manage food safety risks, including those related to intentional adulteration, improving traceability for certain foods, and much more.
The U.S. Congress underestimated the time and effort needed to issue the rules, which were ultimately released as the result of consent orders stemming from consumer group lawsuits. Although FSMA was signed into law a dozen years ago, some of its major rules, such as 2016’s Final Rule on Produce Safety’s agricultural water requirements and 2022’s Food Traceability Final Rule, are not yet fully implemented. “It’s too soon to tell if FSMA has improved public health, but—without question—it’s fundamentally changed the way food safety is managed in the United States, and even globally,” Dr. McEntire says.
The New Era of Smarter Food Safety
Nearly 10 years later, in 2020, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety was ushered in under Frank Yiannas, MPH, who, at the time, was FDA’s deputy commissioner of food policy and response. The initiative addressed traceability, digital technologies, evolving food business models, and food safety culture.
According to Gary Nowacki, CEO of TraceGains, a supply chain solutions company, universal traceability based on industry-wide technology adoption and interoperability between solutions has the potential to provide greater supply chain visibility and accelerate industry responses to contamination and other issues. “The FDA wants to increase tech adoption for traceability across the industry, working not only with brands and manufacturers, but also with technology providers serving the industry,” he says.
Another component of the blueprint is to employ smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response. “Making the most of available data remains one of the most valuable resources the industry has at its disposal,” Nowacki adds. According to a speech by FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, FDA wants to do everything it can to “attain better quality data, conduct a more meaningful analysis of it, and transform streams of data into more meaningful, strategic, and prevention-oriented actions.”