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June 1, 2021

Post-COVID-19 Food Safety Will Introduce a 'New Era' of Digital Tools

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety, FSMA

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of each stage of the supply chain doing its part in minimizing food safety risk. The federal government created the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2010 as a culmination of past food safety laws, taking a more proactive approach.

Ten years after its passage, FSMA continues to revolutionize the food industry. For detailed year-by-year updates to the law, you can visit the FDA website, "What's New in FSMA." As a quick summary of some of the regulatory highlights, over the next few years we can expect the FDA will:

    • Pay more attention to restaurant and food retail establishments because of the impact of COVID-19 on their operations
    • Move faster on foodborne illness outbreaks – especially as more innovative food products enter the marketplace
    • Focus on the interaction between animal operations and produce operations to better understand the risks involved
    • Release a final traceability rule to be implemented in 2022
    • Enforce mandatory compliance dates for the new requirements for nutritional labeling, including Bioengineered Disclosure Standards on consumer packaging

 

Impact of COVID-19

Both the USDA and FDA have taken action in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In terms of the pandemic's impact on food safety, inspections, recalls, and supply chain management are the most urgent issues.

 

Inspections

While initially postponing almost all food inspections in March 2020, the FDA has once again begun conducting remote and select onsite domestic inspections based on a new risk assessment system. The frequency of these inspections is based on:

    • The risk of a foodborne outbreak associated with a company’s facility
    • The type of food products the company produces
    • The company’s history of food safety incidents

Domestic facilities considered high-risk will be inspected every three years, while low-risk facilities will be inspected every five years.

In addition, the occurrence of any of the following events will trigger a “for cause” inspection:

    • An illness is linked to a food product.
    • A product tests positive for contamination.
    • Customer complaints prompt an official investigation.

 

Recalls

Serious food safety concerns can more readily occur at businesses that have “cut corners” along the supply chain to compensate for decreased revenues during the COVID-19 emergency. Ill-advised cost-saving measures, such as irregular temperature monitoring or reduced sanitation operations, can cause a greater risk of food contamination, spurring an overall rise in food recalls. Also, as FDA inspections resume at normal frequencies, inspectors may find issues in key touchpoint operations that were "put on the back burner" during the pandemic.

On the brighter side, food companies may also have learned valuable lessons from the challenges of the pandemic through increased focus on day-to-day operations. As management has come to realize that nonessential workers need not be on-site as often as before, they have compensated by developing new ways to produce safe, quality food.

 

Supply Chain Management

With the pandemic disrupting the supply chain, even for businesses implementing a Food Safety Management System (FSMS), it's likely there will be a renewed focus on launching new and better programs for Food Safety Management, Crisis Management, and Supplier Approval in more food business operations.

The pandemic also spotlighted how virtual and digital tools are proving their efficiency, speed, and cost-effectiveness to meet food safety issues for supply chain management at the global, regional, and local levels. As consumer trust will be of paramount importance post-pandemic, the implementation of digital technologies is expected to grow nationwide.

FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Logo

 SOURCE: https://www.fda.gov/food/new-era-smarter-food-safety

 

FDA’s New Era of Food Safety

It’s no coincidence that the rise of digital technologies has occurred simultaneously alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. Well before the onset of the crisis, the FDA had already recognized that virtual and remote tools were the wave of the future for food safety efficacy and compliance.

Probably the most significant regulatory development of the last ten years has been the launch of FDA's “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” The goal of this revolutionary approach is to create a safer and more traceable food system by leveraging emerging technologies – and ultimately reduce the number of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S.

Currently, the FDA is developing a “Blueprint" to address three key areas: digital tools, traceability, and evolving food business models. To help the FDA conduct more timely and accurate investigations, this "new era" paradigm will upgrade the agency's abilities to rapidly track and trace food through the supply chain.

The FDA is studying how to leverage emerging technologies currently being used by food companies, in particular the Internet of Things (IoT), such as digital sensors, probes, and data logs. The agency is assessing how these technologies can create a more transparent and safer food system along the entire supply chain from “farm to fork.”

The replacement of paper-based, manual systems by evolving digital technologies will play a pivotal role in tracing the origin of contaminated food to its source in minutes, or even seconds, instead of days or weeks. Access to information during an outbreak about the origin of contaminated food will help the FDA conduct more timely root cause analysis and apply these findings to prevent future incidents from happening in the first place.

FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint

Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/new-era-smarter-food-safety

The Blueprint also addresses consumer demands for quick access to information about the origin of their food, how it’s produced, and if it is the subject of an ongoing recall. As customers increasingly demand that food be delivered to their homes, the FDA’s new blueprint identifies the appropriate food safety best practices in the e-commerce delivery system, such as temperature control and proper packaging materials.

Topics: Food Safety FSMA

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