The FDA recently announced that they are starting now to build upon their previous work on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) (1). This act basically moves the focus of the United States food safety system from responsive measures to the preventive measures of foodborne illness (2). It’s the hope that the FDA blueprint will help create innovations in regulating food safety and will help reduce foodborne illness as well as any illness from consumable products. Read below to learn more about this plan and how it will affect you in the years to come.
Food outbreak basics
As you pick up your groceries from the market, you may not give a second thought to the safety of the food you’re buying. It’s likely your expectation is that the powers that be in the food industry will make sure the food you buy is safe before you consume it. However, food outbreaks do happen, such as with the Romaine lettuce leafy greens E. coli outbreak from January 2020 (3).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 48 million people in the United States become sick and 3000 die from foodborne illness each year (2). The risk of foodborne illness in the population is significant unless contaminated food found to be the cause of making people sick is disposed of or removed from the food supply. To remove such foods, scientists must first identify them and their origin. This involves figuring out what those infected have consumed in common, tracing the food back to its production source, as well as lab testing of the food supply to identify affected food products (4).
With the rise of the COVID-19 crisis, more and more people are ordering groceries and cooked meals online for home delivery. As you can imagine, the more places a food requires transport to, the greater the risk for temperatures to become unsafe and packages to become tampered, in turn, increasing risks of food becoming spoiled and contaminated. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration has recently announced a new blueprint for food safety measures to make it easier to prevent foodborne illness in the future (1).
FDA’s new food safety blueprint
The FDA’s New Era Blueprint focuses on four basic tenets to help strengthen the food safety system (1). These four core elements include:
- Tech-enabled traceability
- Smarter tools for outbreak prevention and response
- New business models
- Food Safety Culture
Currently, the records of food products moving through the food supply are mostly paper-based, which can make it exceedingly difficult to trace where food is going and where it’s been. This in turn can increase the time it takes to trace the origin of a contaminated food product and can place lives at risk. Therefore, the FDA hopes to integrate data streams and create new technologies to make food supply records more digital to allow for faster tracing.
With such new technologies, experts will better be able to document the root causes of foodborne illnesses. In turn, the FDA hopes that predictive analytics tools could use such data to inform a prevention-based framework to ultimately reduce foodborne illness occurrences.
For further prevention of foodborne illness, the FDA hopes to educate retail businesses on safety measures like temperature control and cross-contamination. Since restaurants are commonplaces of risk for foodborne illness, training of staff and making sure restaurants have a safe food supply available for purchase will be necessary to prevent illness outbreaks.
Finally, the FDA reports that without a shift in food safety culture, foodborne illnesses will be harder to prevent. That’s why it’s important to create ways to educate retail employees, consumers, and food workers, among others on safe food handling and preparation practices.
What will the implementation of such core elements look like?
In the FDA blueprint, they provide examples of what attainment of such core elements will look like in the future. Such examples include (1):
- Scanning a bag of lettuce and immediately finding out where it was sourced.
- Receiving a text message telling you if you purchased a product that was recalled.
- Knowing that the workplace culture in the restaurant where you eat uses safe food handling practices.
What does this mean for supplements?
When it comes to dietary supplements, the FDA does not normally regulate them. However, under this new blueprint, the FDA hopes to instill a culture of behavior change and food safety policy adherence by all companies that produce consumable goods, including dietary supplement companies (1). This includes adhering to regulations set by the original FSMA signed into law in 2011 which includes dietary supplement food safety plans being set in place (5). Not to mention that dietary supplement companies will need to have a Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) when companies source ingredients of a dietary supplement globally. This program will ensure that such suppliers are producing food products in compliance with FDA processes and procedures.
Final Notes on FDA’s New Era Blueprint
FDA’s New Era Blueprint is the next step in creating a safer food system in the United States. It’s not going to happen overnight, but hopefully, over the next several years and decades food safety systems will continue to evolve. In doing so, perhaps foodborne illnesses can become a thing of the past and consumers can feel more confident than ever that the food product they’re purchasing will provide more nourishment than harm.