Even with one of the safest food supplies in the world, 1 in 6 Americans is sickened by foodborne illness each year, resulting in thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in health care costs. That’s why my colleagues and I are excited to announce the 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge, the FDA’s first open innovation competition under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which grants all federal agencies broad authority to conduct prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions. We’re going after a problem with wide-ranging effects on the safety of the American public — foodborne pathogen detection — and we’re targeting Salmonella, which is responsible for more deaths and hospitalizations than any other foodborne pathogen. Backed by a $500,000 prize purse, the challenge calls on America’s innovators to submit concepts that achieve breakthrough improvements in detecting Salmonella in fresh produce. We are looking for ideas that will advance FDA’s pathogen detection efforts and further strengthen the safety of the American food supply. From the open submission pool, up to five of the most promising concepts will be selected to progress as finalists. Subject matter experts from FDA will help these finalists hone their concepts, providing entrants with extensive coaching and support. Finalists will then present their concepts to a panel of judges from FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a Demo Day event, and the winner or winners will be selected. Exciting work in diverse fields, including materials science, nanotechnology, spectroscopy and genomics, offers promising application in the future of pathogen detection. While existing methods continue to improve, new approaches could eliminate steps in the testing process and dramatically speed the time to result. We know of myriad research teams across the country working on advanced techniques. Through this open innovation competition, we’ll look for these researchers and other innovators to contribute solutions that can be deployed in new ways to food safety, enabling us to move this important work out of the lab more efficiently than typical commercialization approaches. Mandated to regulate the safety of the American food supply, FDA has a responsibility to apply best-in-class testing approaches to protect against foodborne illnesses. Through the challenge, we aim to bring in the best solutions from food safety experts and concepts from adjacent fields that offer promise in the future of rapid pathogen detection. Open innovation holds much promise for furthering FDA’s efforts to ensure the safety of America’s food. By gaining fresh perspectives on the challenges of food safety, FDA can explore solutions that may have otherwise escaped our notice. And by engaging a diverse community of innovators, we can create a broader dialogue to advance regulatory science across the federal research enterprise. (David G. White, Ph.D., is chief science officer and research director at FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.)

  • Stan T

    ‘…1 in 6 Americans is sickened by foodborne illness each year, resulting in thousands of deaths ..” are thousands of people dying in US yearly because of food borne illnesses?

    • farmber

      food safety is Job One, for sure — but these are highly dubious and unsubstantiated statistics……..

    • Lisa P

      Just curious – how many deaths from eating foods in the United States are acceptable when there are steps that could be taken to avoid that tragic outcome? The CDC estimates 3000 each year, and while the number may not be precise (maybe it is less, but it could be more), any deaths from the simple act of eating a food is unacceptable when they are preventable.

      • Stan T

        We are talking 2 different things. I am not debating your thought process. I am honestly not very sure if thousands are dying in US due to food borne illnesses especially that can attributed to processors lack of due diligence. If someone contracts an illness by eating from a food truck or a restaurant where someone did not wash his or her hands after using rest room, that shouldn’t be counted towards a foodborne illness. People could die from eating at home for same reason.

        I think processors are taking steps on a regular basis to prevent food borne outbreaks. Definitely more can be done.