FDA TO ISSUE NEW FOOD SAFETY PLAN NEXT MONTH: The agency plans to roll out its Blueprint for a New Era of Smarter Food Safety in the first half of March, according to Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response. The FDA's goal is to reduce rates of foodborne illnesses — which have remained flat in recent years — in part by modernizing the way the agency conducts investigations so it can more quickly pinpoint the origin of contamination, Yiannas said during an interview with POLITICO on Thursday.
He described traceability as the "Achilles heel" of the food system. It can be improved through new technology to track supply chains, such as blockchain, sensors and artificial intelligence. "Rapid traceability will allow us to get boots on the ground really fast ... and do a root cause analysis," he said. "When you show up months later, it's too late. You may never uncover the route of contamination."
The FDA has yet to explain how the romaine lettuce implicated in three E. coli outbreaks last year became tainted. The agency was able to identify a common farm with multiple fields among the outbreaks in the lower Salinas Valley. That investigation is still ongoing, and the FDA last month lifted a sweeping warning to consumers to avoid eating the green. The outbreak caused 188 illnesses but no deaths were reported.
Aside from traceability, the blueprint will also touch on data analysis tools that can help the FDA identify potential food safety risks, how the agency can adapt its work to evolving food supply chains — like e-commerce — and educating farmers, food companies and consumers about best practices to prevent foodborne illnesses.
The agency hasn't estimated how much additional funding it might need to implement its new 10-year vision, Yiannas said, but Congress in the last two federal spending packages allocated money for tech-enabled traceability.