The implementation of food safety regulatory measures is crucial to ensure the well-being of consumers and the integrity of the food supply chain.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011, marked a significant milestone in enhancing food safety practices in the United States. Section 204 of the act stands out as a pivotal component aimed at bolstering safety standards in fresh food retailing.

As the mandate for enforcement of Section 204 draws closer, supermarkets, wholesalers and suppliers in the fresh food supply chain may want to start charting a course for the ever-evolving landscape of food safety beyond the January 2026 start date.

As previously described in this series, FSMA Section 204 places a spotlight on preventive controls within the fresh food retail sector. By requiring retailers to implement science-based practices to prevent contamination, mitigate risks and ensure the safety of fresh produce and perishable goods, this regulation serves as a cornerstone in safeguarding public health.

The emphasis on preventive controls shifts the focus from reactive measures to proactive strategies, fostering a culture of vigilance and accountability across the supply chain.

Going forward, industry observers say retailers and their supply chain partners will continue to focus on identifying and addressing potential hazards in food production, processing and distribution through the implementation of preventive controls, hazard analyses and food safety plans.

New food safety efforts will to be guided by a risk-based approach, prioritizing resources and interventions based on the likelihood and severity of potential hazards. While ensuring compliance with FSMA regulations will remain a priority, food facilities will be expected to continue implementing and maintaining preventive controls, conducting regular hazard analyses, and developing and updating food safety plans as needed.

One of the primary objectives of FSMA Section 204 is to enforce stricter standards for handling, storing, and transporting food products included in the Food Traceability List (FTL), 16 categories determined the riskiest by FDA analytics.

Retailers are mandated to implement comprehensive food safety plans, conduct risk assessments and establish monitoring procedures to detect and address potential hazards effectively in each of these categories.

Moreover, the regulation necessitates regular inspections, audits, and record-keeping practices to verify compliance and track the journey of fresh foods from farm to fork. The opinion of several experts is that the FDA will, sooner rather than later, add categories to the FTL, requiring companies to extend their traceability efforts to these new products.

“Anticipated changes to FSMA Section 204 could significantly impact food retailers. Possible developments include an expanded Food Traceability List, a growing emphasis on digital traceability systems and efforts to harmonize traceability across the food industry,” said Joe Smirlies, senior vice president of product management at Invafresh, a retail technology company focused on the management of fresh food. “Retailers must adapt to these changes, stay informed about nuanced scenarios and invest in digital platforms to comply with evolving regulations.”

“As FSMA 204 enforcement continues, effective traceability practices may provide a competitive advantage, influencing consumer preferences and market dynamics. Retailers should view traceability as both a compliance necessity and a strategic tool for informed sourcing decisions, enhancing consumer trust in a changing regulatory landscape.”

This article is an excerpt from the May 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire FSMA 204: Navigating the Future feature and more in the digital edition here.