Earlier this week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration held a conference just outside Washington that brought together foodmakers, retailers, consumer advocates and consultants for a high-level, discussion on the future of food safety. The meeting was part of a broader initiative taking shape at the FDA called “a New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” that the agency is planning to take to strengthen its protection of the U.S. food supply.
First announced last April, the FDA says it aims to build on progress made as a result of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which established science- and risk-based standards for the production and transportation of domestic and imported foods, by creating “a more digital, traceable, and safer system” to help protect consumers from contaminated food.
Acting Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless and other officials have indicated that the FDA intends to release a detailed blueprint early next year “to outline how this new approach will address public health challenges, including being able to trace sources of contaminated foods and using new predictive analytics tools like artificial intelligence to assess risks and prioritize the agency’s work and resources.”
Stating it will be “a tapestry of wisdom provided by experts in the public and private sectors,” the FDA’s strategic plan is expected to deal with several key areas, including the following:
Tech-Enabled Traceability and Foodborne Outbreak Response: Looking at technologies, data streams, and processes that will greatly reduce the time it takes to track and trace the origin of a contaminated food and respond to public health risks.
Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention: Enhancing the use of new knowledge from traceback, data streams and tools for rapidly analyzing data. According to the FDA, the ability to use new data analysis tools and predictive analytics will help the agency and stakeholders better identify and mitigate potential food safety risks and advance the preventive controls framework that FSMA established.
Adapting to New Business Models and Retail Food Safety Modernization: Advancing the safety of both new business models, such as e-commerce and home delivery of foods, and traditional business models, such as retail food establishments.
Food Safety Culture: Promoting and recognizing the role of food safety culture on farms and in facilities. This involves doing more to influence what employees and companies think about food safety and how they demonstrate a commitment to this work. Strengthening food safety cultures also extends to the home and FDA is working to educate consumers on safe food handling practices.
Import Pilot Project
The FDA also plans to conduct a new pilot that will leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning “to explore new ways to enhance the agency’s review of imported foods at ports of entry to ensure they meet U.S. food safety standards.” With the number of imported foods products continually increasing, the FDA hopes that “applying the best predictive and analytical tools” will help ensure the agency is targeting the greatest risks to protect consumers.
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