Some say technology is the driving force behind the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and they may be right. One thing for certain is that food safety technologies are hitting the market at a quick pace since FSMA went on the books. And it’s far from over. The fact is the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), which produced the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Science and Research Strategic Plan for 2015-2018, acknowledges there are some “knowledge gaps” that must be addressed if FSMA is going to be successfully implemented. FDA’s task is a big one. In the plan, CFSAN notes that FDA is currently responsible for regulating “approximately $417 billion worth of domestic food, $49 billion worth of imported foods, and over $60 billion worth of cosmetics across state lines.” “Further, globalization, new technologies, and increased consumer dreaming for fresh and imported food products are driving a need for new tools and standards to regulate a more complex and diverse food supply and cosmetic industry,” the plan states. “Given these pressures and scope of regulatory authority, CFSAN is directing resources toward targeted and strategic scientific research that supports regulatory decision making and meets the demands of emerging and existing food and cosmetic safety issues in the 21st century.” The plan goes on to point out, “As CFSAN continues to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the center is focused on setting science-based preventive control standards for the way industry produces, distributes, and markets food in order to strengthen the nation’s food safety system. In 2013, CFSAN published six proposed regulations aimed at preventing contamination of food. The center will finalize these regulations and utilize new enforcement tools authorized by FSMA. Grounded in the latest science, these authorities will enhance the agency’s ability to implement a new prevention-focused food safety system.” “New enforcement tools” typically means new technology, and since FSMA was signed into law almost five years ago, research- and development-based industries have been busy producing the gadgets that food businesses will need to stay in compliance. And CFSAN has the additional role of making sure the technology that is used will protect consumers using the best possible science to support its regulatory activities. To address what it calls the remaining “knowledge gaps,” the CFSAN plan has six strategic goals. They are:
- Preventive Controls: Intervention and prevention controls for microbial and chemical hazards for FSMA-regulated products.
- Screening Methods: Implement field laboratory screening methods to detect chemical contaminants.
- Scientific Leadership: Advance leadership in bioinformatics to improve public health decision-making.
- Toxicological approaches: Integrate and apply modern toxicological approaches for chemical hazards in foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetics.
- Research: Advance diet and health research for better science-based policies.
- Public Health: Engage Centers of Excellence and stakeholders to enhance FDA’s science and research to maximize public health benefits.
The science and technology needs that CSFAN plans to address through those goals are critical to what it calls “a shift to a more prevention-oriented approach to food safety under new FSMA legislation.” For example, the preventive controls goal is aimed at the need to come up with “validated practices and processes” for safe production, harvesting and processing of fresh fruits and vegetables. Further, CFSAN wants to be able to understand the “survival, persistence and growth of microbial pathogens.” Screening for chemical contaminants and coming up with protocols for high-priority chemical contaminants are among the outcomes sought under the second strategic goal. Genomic-based technologies to identify foodborne contamination make up the details of the third goal, while new tools to assess chemical safety are included in the fourth. FDA wants better nutrient analysis to support its labeling authority and better research to support public health decision-making. The agency states that it wants these science and technology gaps filled by “a bottom up approach where both regulators and researchers sit down together ….” CFSAN’s Research Strategic Plan for 2015-2018 was published earlier this year. It is aligned with other FDA planning documents, including Implement a New Prevention-Focused Food Safety System to Protect Public Health and the goals and strategies of FDA’s Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine (OFVM).
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)