Invoking images of a children’s rhyme and a John Lennon classic, leaders with the FDA have unveiled what they call a blueprint for the agency’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.”

Like Jack and his proverbial candlestick, “nimble approaches” are among the promises in the blueprint published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

And, as the Lennon hit and the blueprint’s conclusion urge, “imagine” how life would be if the food system could be nimble enough to effectively trace food during outbreaks and recalls. “So, imagine these aspirations becoming the norm, . . .” the blueprint’s conclusion states.

The blueprint, which was supposed to be out this spring, was stalled while the agency scaled back operations during the COVID-19 shutdown. When the “New Era of Food Safety” was announced by FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas in early 2019 the nuts and bolts were promised by early 2020. 

Now that the blueprint document is out, it is clear that parts of the project are not yet clear.

The “New Era” information thus far has included a lot of phrases such as new approaches, planned changes, modern approaches, and more efficiencies. With the rollout of the blueprint the FDA continues to rely on those phrases as well as concepts like “leveraging technology” and the evolution of the food industry.

There are few details in the blueprint in terms of what specifically the end game is and how specifically to get there. But that’s not what the blueprint is supposed to do.

“The blueprint is not a detailed action plan,” Yiannas told reporters during a news teleconference Monday afternoon. “The goal is to outline a decade’s worth of work.”

Before any of the specifics of that work can be determined, the FDA blueprint says the government will need to gather information from stakeholders including businesses, governments, academia and the public.

Yiannas told reporters that while the blueprint is being executed, industry-to-industry pressure will result in some of the ultimate goals of the “New Era” being achieved before government can research, propose, revise, and publish industry guidance or rules.

Retailers are increasingly requiring traceability on some foods, Yiannas said. As that practice grows the entities in the food system that supply grocers and restaurants will have to implement modern traceability technology to remain viable in the marketplace.

Traceability is just one aspect of the blueprint released by the FDA. It has four key elements.

“These are the foundational pillars of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, covering the range of technologies, analytics, business models, modernization and values that are its building blocks,” according to the blueprint. 

“There is a lot of synergy; an idea in one element may be relevant to one or more others. For example, analytics crosses over into traceability and new business models. The themes of mutual reliance between federal and state partners and the importance of food safety culture are woven throughout. There are common needs for metrics and reliable third-party audits. These elements, working together, will bring us into the New Era of Smarter Food Safety.”

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