WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration will convene a public meeting on Oct. 21 to discuss its New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative that the agency says will build on the ongoing efforts to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act by incorporating new technologies to create “a more digital, traceable and safer system to help protect consumers from contaminated food.”
Transparency and traceability are the F.D.A.’s chief concerns in developing, with stakeholder advice and comments, a blueprint for its food safety initiative. It hopes to issue a strategic blueprint in early 2020.
In its notice published in the Federal Register announcing the public meeting, The F.D.A. said, “When it comes to food traceability, many in the food system still utilize a largely paper-based system of taking one step forward to identify where the food has gone and one step back to identify the source. The use of new and evolving digital technologies envisioned in the effort will play a pivotal role in tracing the origin of a contaminated food to its source in minutes, or even seconds, instead of days or weeks.”
The F.D.A. indicated it will examine technologies and approaches that include those being used in society and business sectors, such as distributed ledgers, sensors, the internet of things and artificial intelligence.
“The F.D.A. will assess how these technologies could create a more digital, transparent and safe food system while also addressing consumer demands for quick access to information about where their foods come from, how they are produced and if the food is subject of an ongoing recall.”
The new era of smarter food safety initiative was first announced in a joint statement issued April 30 by Ned Sharpless, M.D., acting commissioner, and Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response. From that time until the public meeting announcement, F.D.A. teams have been brainstorming to generate ideas and to develop questions to elicit stakeholder comments and insights.
Among the most interesting models for dramatically improving food traceability across the industry is the blockchain-based supply chain tracking system. Mr. Yiannas joined the F.D.A. from Walmart, where he implemented and championed a blockchain-based system for tracing some foods from farm to store in a matter of seconds.
In an interview related to the public meeting notice, Mr. Yiannas commented, “The emergence of blockchain technology, because of its distributed and decentralized nature that aligns more closely with a decentralized and distributed food system, has enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.”
Mr. Yiannas gave the example of his participation in a pilot program that traced mangoes back to their source using blockchain technology.
“I bought a package of sliced mangoes and asked my colleagues to find out which farm these particular mangoes came from,” he said. “Working with each stakeholder in the supply chain, they identified the farm in a mere 6 days, 18 hours and 26 minutes. And that was pretty good when the average traceback can take weeks.
“Fast forward to the pilot using blockchain technology to trace mangoes from farms in Mexico to two stores in North America. For this test, each stakeholder in the supply chain, including farms, packing houses, transportation companies, importers/exporters, processing facilities, distribution centers and stores, put data in the blockchain. The blockchain then linked these blocks of data together to show the journey this mango took from farm to store. The result was a steep reduction in the time it took to trace mangoes — from 7 days to 2.2 seconds.”
The F.D.A. also said stakeholders must take into consideration new ways consumers are purchasing their food.
“As consumers are increasingly asking for food to be delivered to their homes, there are new methods, packaging materials, temperature control approaches and delivery models in the e-commerce system,” the F.D.A. said. “These evolving business models present food safety challenges, as well as novel considerations around regulatory framework and oversight at the federal, state and local level.”
The public meeting will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel.