Day two of The International Association for Food Protection 2020, A Virtual Annual Meeting featured a “U.S. Regulatory Update on Food Safety,” from Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, and Mindy Brashears, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety of the USDA.

Yiannas and Brashears provided insight into the latest information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture  Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS). 

USDA FSIS regulatory update 

Mindy Brashears was confirmed by a Senate vote this past March. Prior to joining USDA, Brashears was a professor of food safety and public health and the director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University.

Brashears started her update by talking about the impact COVID-19 has had on FSIS operations.

“As a scientist, I want to stick to the facts,” Brashear explained. “The first thing I want to say is that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is a food safety risk.” Brashears is aware that there are a number of claims about the transfer of COVID-19 through food. She sees it as her job and others in the industry to speak out loudly against this, and make sure consumers know what the science is saying, that COVID-19 is not a food safety risk.

She addressed the uptick in worker illness, particularly in meat processing facilities. Brashears explained how the situation stabilized as protective measures were taken — face masks, plexiglass shields, and more.

“We learned that Agriculture is essential. People started buying meat when they were worried that there might be a shortage.” Brashears said she was thankful that meat and the food supply, in general, didn’t get to the point of other shortages, like toilet paper.

Brashears is proud of how FSIS has handled the challenge. “There was not a single facility that shut down due to lack of FSIS inspection.” 

USDA FSIS’s three goals:

  • Lead with Science 

“We try to cover the entire farm to table continuum,” Brashears said. FSIS has a wide breadth of scientists, three labs, and cover a lot more than just inspections. Brashears doesn’t want the agency to be a barrier for food safety innovation, instead, she wants to get new tools, techniques and technology approved quickly.  She used the example of the “Modernized beef inspection” that took 20 plus years to implement. She said it should have been done much faster.

  •  Influence Behavior changes

Brashears says the FSIS is focused on consumers because they are so important. They are the last line of defense. The FSIS is pushing innovative research and education ideas that will lead to behavior changes.

  • Build relationships

Brashears said it is important that FSIS has a great relationship with the FDA and stakeholders. 

On the science side, the FSIS is building relationships with research institutions and universities through fellowships for graduate students.

FDA Food Policy and Response regulatory update

Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the Food and Drug Administration. Yiannas is the FDA’s top administrator to reduce food safety risks and achieve high rates of compliance with FDA food safety standards. Yiannas came to FDA from past leadership roles with Walmart and the Walt Disney Co. He has been recognized for his role in elevating food safety standards and building effective food safety management systems based on modern science and risk-based prevention principles.

Yiannas is also the former president of IAFP, and said how returning to speak at conferences like this is something of a homecoming for him.

New Era of Smarter Food Safety

Yiannas started by thanking everyone who works in the food industry.

“I’d like to salute the heroism of workers at all points of the food supply chain who have not been able to stay home, to shelter in place,” Yiannas said that he has been impressed by how the industry has responded during the pandemic. “Through it, all our food supply has been remarkably resilient.” 

He shared some of the highlights coming from the FDA’s plan, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety:

Tech-enabled Traceability

  • Proposed Food Traceability Rule
  • Harmonize the information and data needed for enhanced traceability.
  • Food Traceability List
  • Lays the foundation for end-to-end traceability

Smarter Tool and Approaches for prevention

  • Using AI to prevent violative imported foods from entering commerce. 
  • Yiannas says that technological advances have enabled the FDA to improve predictive models and apprehend violations before they happen. For example, “We have increased our (the FDA’s) predictive ability by 300% as to which containers could have violations.”

New Business Models and Retail Modernization

The FDA is modernizing by adapting to new trends.

  • Online grocery shopping is likely to increase by 20 percent within the next few years.
  • One survey reports that 31 percent of U.S. households are already using online grocery services.

Food Safety = Behavior

Yiannas stressed that the FDA must get better at implementing the science and research that is being discovered.

  • Behavioral Science Principles
  • Social Marketing Plan
  • Measure Culture and Behavior

Progress on Produce Safety

Lastly, Yiannas listed the improvements and work the FDA has done recently but stressed that there is more to do because, as he said, “One foodborne illness is too many.”

  • Outbreak Investigations
  • 2020 Leafy Green Action Plan
  • EPA-Registered Agricultural Water Treatments
  • Proposed Agricultural Water Rule
  • Food Safety Partnership with Mexico
  • Papaya Action Plan
  • Cyclospora Advancements

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