– OPINION –
Despite the unprecedented challenges we’ve all faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 has been another big year for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration‘s food program.
I would like to highlight some of the advances we made last year in protecting the safety of food for human consumption, which we will continue to build on this year. They reflect on the work done by dedicated teams in the FDA’s Office of Food Policy and Response, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the Office of Regulatory Affairs.
FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
January 2021 marked the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the FSMA law. The mandate of Congress then is still true today: it is not enough to respond to foodborne disease outbreaks, we must first prevent them from occurring. We continue to answer that call.
More importantly, in December we released a much-anticipated rule proposal to establish revised standards for agricultural water to further strengthen product safety. It would require some operations to carry out annual assessments and, if necessary, put measures in place to minimize potential risks. I think it could be a game-changer for food security, because agricultural water has often been a factor in commodity-related disease outbreaks.
Also in December, the FDA issued a final lab accreditation rule to improve the accuracy and reliability of certain food tests.
New era of smarter food safety
In our work to leverage FSMA and our continued commitment to modernization as part of the new era of smarter food safety, I believe we are on the verge of a food safety revolution. with new tools, technologies and approaches for some of our most important challenges. .
One such challenge is to strengthen our response to foodborne illness outbreaks to inform future prevention activities. In December, the FDA released its Foodborne Outbreak Response Enhancement Plan designed to improve the speed, efficiency, and coordination of outbreak investigations. Priorities include technology-based traceability, root cause analysis and outbreak data.
As an example of our focus on prevention, the FDA highlighted the importance of examining and addressing recurring factors associated with outbreaks in an E. coli O157:H7 of fall 2020 linked to leafy greens grown in California. In that report, released in April, the FDA expressed concern about a persistent strain of E. adjacent lands.
Think outside the box to strengthen prevention
To further strengthen prevention, we know we need to think and act differently throughout the agency’s Foods program.
The agency continues to work on finalizing the proposed food traceability rule to improve the ability to trace food back to its source. Our goal is to ensure that traceability tools are affordable for small and medium businesses. In June, the FDA launched the Low-Cost Tech-Enabled Traceability Challenge to encourage the development of traceability systems that use low-cost or no-cost business models. We received a record number of submissions, 90 from around the world, and chose 12 winning teams representing the United States, Canada and New Zealand. The winning submissionsExternal Links Disclaimer are smart, impactful and span the entire food continuum. We are actively working to communicate these ideas to the stakeholders who need them most.
The pandemic has accelerated the need for alternative approaches when the FDA is unable to conduct traditional oversight. Accordingly, we conducted remote regulatory assessments at various establishments, including remote inspections of importers subject to foreign supplier verification program requirements under FSMA. We review importer records to ensure foreign food suppliers meet US safety standards. These remote assessments have provided valuable information to aid in regulatory decisions and resource targeting and we are currently exploring the role they could play in our regulatory oversight toolkit.
We engaged our state partners and stakeholders in different ways. In 2021, the FDA signed national Mutual Trust Agreements with California, Florida, Utah, and Wisconsin. These agreements facilitate a coordinated effort to reduce human foodborne illness outbreaks, reduce duplication of regulatory oversight, and focus on areas of higher risk.
And in 2021, we also marked the continued success of FDA-funded Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) responding to human and animal food emergencies in 24 states. The FDA released a videoExternal Links Disclaimer in 2021 presenting the program.
Safety of food ordered online and culture of food safety
In October, we hosted a three-day summit to explore potential security vulnerabilities in food ordered online and delivered directly to consumers. The pandemic has accelerated the need for an e-commerce conversation as consumers increasingly order food online instead of going to a store or restaurant. Over 4,100 people registered for the summit from over 44 countries and nearly 14,000 people viewed the recordings. We are reviewing the feedback we received to decide on next steps.
Another New Era priority is to support the establishment of a culture of food safety on farms and in food facilities so that food safety is done the right way every day – not just because it’s the law, but because it is the right thing to do. In November, the FDA began co-sponsoring a series of webinars with the nonprofit organization Stop Foodborne Illness to engage experts in an exchange of ideas and experiences related to the importance of a strong safety culture. food to help ensure safe food production.
Reflecting on 2021 and moving forward in 2022
There’s so much more the food program has achieved in 2021. Learn more about our work on food security and nutrition, including efforts to reduce sodium intake and protect young children from toxic elements. , I encourage you to read the 2021 year of the FDA acting Janet Woodcock. in Review – Highlights Report.
In 2022, we will continue these and other achievements, including hosting public meetings on proposed revised standards for agricultural water and releasing a final food traceability rule. We explore the best uses of artificial intelligence and consider the most effective ways to unleash the power of data, which is so essential to advancing food safety.
I believe that by working together, we will bend the curve of foodborne illness in this decade so that consumers in this country, and around the world, can lead better lives.
About the Author: Frank Yiannas is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response
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