Despite advancements in food safety, the rates of foodborne disease in the U.S. have not changed significantly over the last decade. In an effort to bend the curve of foodborne illnesses, FDA has released new guidelines that are expected to offer more effective and modern approaches and processes to the food industry.
New Era of Smarter Food Safety: FDA’s Blueprint for the Future is a 10-year roadmap designed to create a more digital, more traceable, and safer food system using technologies including, but not limited to, blockchain, sensor technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).
Angela Fernandez, a food traceability expert and vice president of community engagement for Ewing, N.J.-based GS1 US, collaborated with FDA to determine how GS1 standards would be essential for the blueprint. “The New Era blueprint is in many ways a response to the growing frustrations experienced by the industry and consumers over long, drawn-out investigations into foodborne illness outbreaks and the considerable gaps in end-to-end traceability,” she says. “It encourages the food system to prioritize food safety and enhance its tracking capabilities so that we don’t grow accustomed to a world where romaine lettuce is missing from our Thanksgiving tables each year.”
In announcing the blueprint through a video and press release, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn emphasized the need for tech-enabled food traceability that leverages data standards across the industry to “speak the same language.”
Therese Myers, CEO of Infratab, Inc., Oxnard, Calif., which offers condition-intelligent radio frequency (RF)-sensor solutions for monitoring, tracking, and tracing perishables, notes that the implementation of these tools is significant because it signals a mindset change toward assessing, quantifying, and immutably documenting both risk and quality, taking steps to ensure that the perishable will have the provenance, safety, and shelf life consumers expect. “For food manufacturers, this will mean a move to a traceability system that’s interoperable, not proprietary, allowing the same system to be used regardless of the channel,” she says. “Data security is paramount, of course, but as the plan broadens the scope of traceability, it will become untenable for food manufacturers to rely on one system for this customer and another for that customer—we need systems that can efficiently, accurately, and securely talk to each other.”
Sergei Beliaev, former CIO at Walmart and currently executive vice president and chief strategy officer of DLT Labs, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which has delivered many of the largest enterprise blockchain projects globally, describes this as an important undertaking because human health and safety are primary concerns—any number of deaths is too many, particularly if the cause is preventable. “Blockchain enables connectivity of information from any input in one unified, shared ledger that’s traceable, immutable, auditable, and real time to ensure a more digital, [more] traceable, and safer food system,” he says. “The power of real-time visibility and early detection and alerts are our best technological hopes to support the food safety blueprint.”
Smarter Food Safety Plan
Overall, the goal of the New Era blueprint is to curb foodborne illness by improving traceability, strengthening predictive analytic tools, and responding more quickly to outbreaks. Addressing new business models, reducing food contamination, and developing a stronger food safety culture across the industry are also important considerations.
The document calls for an increased level of information sharing, throughout the full life cycle of food and raw materials, to give manufacturers more reliable and complete information about how their products are transported, processed, and consumed. “This will allow for ongoing fact-based visibility and improvements to the agriculture and processing processes,” Beliaev says. “Information sharing will also enable consumers to make informed real-time product choices. The goal is to be able to use the information to look both forward and backward.”
Improved Food Safety
By creating a renewed sense of urgency around food safety, the New Era plan will help make recalls more efficient and stop potentially harmful foods from reaching consumers. “It will guide the industry toward a more agile supply chain and drive out manual practices that have plagued the food system for years,” Fernandez says. “This builds upon progress that has already been made over the last decade.”