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FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety

We should embrace the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told us last fall.

He called the plan “a new approach to food safety, one that recognizes and builds on the progress made in the past, but also incorporates the use of new technologies that are being used in society and business sectors all around us.”

The fresh produce industry has been investing in better technology, from software to inventory management to tracking devices to better category management. Does this fit into FDA’s vision for smarter food safety?

It should, said Jennifer McEntire, vice president food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458.

Improving food safety isn’t just checking boxes but rather modernizing everything, she said.

“I think FDA is saying, in a nice way, “get with the times,” McEntire said in mid-February. “If you look at the way that technology is interwoven into our lives — including our personal lives, it seems that FDA is trying to incentivize the food industry (not just produce) to apply these same tools to food production.”

She sees this idea as one that’s constantly improving and never ending.

“From anywhere in the world, I can speak to someone who rings my doorbell or adjust my thermostat,” McEntire said. “I think ‘smarter food safety’ considers how we—producers, regulators, and everyone—can evolve the way we do things to make better use of technology, data, trends, etc… I don’t see that there is ever an ‘end’ to these sorts of things.”

Trevor Suslow, vice president of produce safety for the Produce Marketing Association {{BB #:153708}}, said he’s gotten some insight into the “new era” plan in the past few months, and he sees it as FDA’s effort in information and knowledge-sharing.

“For some in the industry this may be unsettling,” he said. “However, as the opportunities for increased transparency in these non-regulatory and enforcement functions of FDA develop, it seems clear that the produce sector will benefit from a reduced frequency and severity of impacts attributed to recalls and outbreaks.”

Suslow said it also shows increased willingness for FDA to partner in research, education, and training.

McEntire said the effort to bring the industry more in line with the way technology permeates our lives will improve its standing with younger consumers.

“I would also add that as we think about the next generation of employees, if we want to attract real talent, we can’t be asking them to fax over their resume,” she said.

“The world is changing, and technology is changing, and will continue to do so. Improving food safety through the intelligent use of new tools will clearly benefit consumers, but I suspect that businesses will find additional benefits.”

This week GS1 US announced Yiannas would deliver the keynote speech at its annual Connect conference in June in Las Vegas. 

Yiannas is expected to expand on the New Era of Smarter Food Safety and discuss the four key pillars: tech-enabled traceability and outbreak response; smarter tools and approaches for prevention; new business models and retail modernization; and food safety culture.

Greg Johnson is the Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services.