Predictions are hard enough during normal times and even though there are several vaccines for Coronavirus, 2021 isn’t going to be the average year.

I do feel safe enough writing that there will be food recalls, outbreaks, and enough work to keep food safety professionals busy and those who write about the subject in a job.

Here is my attempt at gazing into the crystal ball and highlighting what 2021 has planned. Some of the main issues identified in 2020 will also continue this year. Plus, at the bottom of this article, you can find events in Europe and Asia in date order.

The European Union One Health Zoonoses Report
Usually seen in December, we might not see the 2019 edition until the end of February this year. The annual report on trends and sources of zoonoses is published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

As a reminder, in 2018, EU member states reported 5,146 foodborne outbreaks affecting 48,365 people. Salmonellosis was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection after campylobacteriosis. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) became the third most common cause of foodborne zoonotic disease.

Before the zoonoses report, we should find out more in late January from EFSA and ECDC about a multi-country outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis linked to frozen poultry products.

Allergen labeling changes
Different labeling requirements for prepacked products for direct sale food will apply beginning Oct. 1 this year in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

They require more types of food to list ingredient and allergen information on the label. Prepacked for direct sale means food that is packaged at the same place it is offered to consumers. The move follows the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in July 2016, who had an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a baguette that was not required to have allergen labeling. The rules were dubbed “Natasha’s Law.” Currently, allergen information can be provided verbally by staff. Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse were honored by the Queen with Order of the British Empire (OBE) status in the New Year honors list.

Also, Part 2 of the National Food Strategy, which involves reviewing England’s food system is expected to be available early this year. The government is scheduled to respond with a white paper six months after publication.

COVID-19 impact on other notifiable diseases
I suspect we will see more research looking at the impact on other notifiable diseases during the Coronavirus pandemic to see if they have gone up, down, or stayed the same.

We’ve already covered a study concluding Norwegian scientists found a decline in other notifiable infectious diseases during the pandemic. Australian researchers have also looked at the effect of COVID-19 public health measures on nationally notifiable diseases in the country.

It is very difficult to tell if any decline in foodborne illness figures is an actual drop in infections. Is it due to better hygiene, social distancing, a lack of resources for the surveillance system, people not going to the doctor or other factors?

The 2020 zoonosis reports are going to make for interesting reading. Researchers at the National Food Institute in Denmark are also testing a hypothesis that an increased focus on hand hygiene and changes in what is eaten and who prepares food will lead to a decrease in foodborne illness.

Third World Food Safety Day
Who knows what life will be like by the time the third annual World Food Safety Day comes around on June 7? This year will see a lot of behind the scenes work as both the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations are delivering updated food safety strategies in 2022. By 2025, we should have updated figures from the 2015 estimates on the global burden of foodborne diseases.

There has been a lot of noise about the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September 2021 but how much will be food safety-related and if there will be concrete outputs is not yet known. It is also worth noting 2021 is the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV).

Singapore’s new food hygiene system
This was initially supposed to be happening in late 2020 but now we are told more details will be coming in 2021. The Food Hygiene Recognition Scheme (FHRS) to acknowledge retail food establishments for efforts in maintaining high food hygiene standards was announced in 2018. A licensing and recognition framework will replace the annual grading and license renewal system for food sites. It awards a longer license for those with higher food safety standards and, according to officials, incentivizes establishments to consistently maintain high standards of food safety.

UK trade deals after leaving the European Union
The United Kingdom and EU agreed on a trade deal very late in the day to avoid a “no-deal” scenario and World Trade Organization terms, but I feel we are going to hear much more about this topic. Due to the volume of trade and lack of time for businesses to prepare for border checks plus the different arrangements for Northern Ireland it is going to be a challenging time.

There have already been warnings of food shortages, price rises, and delays at borders but how big will the impact be, and will the consumer notice? We will find out in 2021. All the attention will also now shift to whether the UK and the United States will be able to reach a free trade agreement.

Audit and certification developments
As well as balancing any impact Brexit, FSMA, SFCR, the coronavirus pandemic, or remote audits may be having, food firms are also facing updates to standards and audits by certification bodies. Here’s a glance at some of the changes this year will bring.

In 2020, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) published version 2020 of its benchmarking requirements with regular unannounced audits becoming mandatory once every three years.

For BRCGS Food Safety Issue 8 and Packaging Materials Issue 6, the rules apply to begin in February. For Issue 4 of BRCGS Storage and Distribution, it applies beginning in May. Food Safety Issue 8 was published in 2018 so we could also be seeing Issue 9 in 2021.

IFS Food version 7 assessments can be performed beginning in March. Implementation will become mandatory for all certified companies as of July 2021.

The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), a division of FMI, The Food Industry Association, has released SQF Code Edition 9 for audits beginning on May 24, 2021.

The Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000 has published version 5.1 which will apply beginning in April.

Global GAP is consulting on a draft of the food safety module for version 6 with public comments open until Jan. 31. A third and final comment phase is set for March.

The transition period for ISO 22000: 2018 Food Management Systems, an international standard for a certified food safety management system, has been extended to December 2021. ISO 16140-3: Microbiology of the food chain – method validation is also due anytime.

Events scheduled in 2021

  • Asia-Pacific Symposium on Food Safety Jan. 27-28 (virtual)
  • BRC GS Food Safety Europe Jan. 28 (virtual)
  • Rapid Methods Europe Feb. 1-3 (virtual)
  • GFSI Conference March 2-4 (virtual)
  • IAFP’s European Symposium April 26-28 (virtual)
  • International Food Safety Congress June 3-4 in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Proactive Food Safety conference June 9 in London, UK
  • One Health EJP annual meeting June 9-11 in Copenhagen, Denmark
  • CIEH Food Safety Conference June 29 and Safe Food Conference Nov. 11
  • Food Micro Sept. 19-22 in Athens, Greece
  • European Food Sure Summit Oct. 18-19 in Milan, Italy
  • China International Food Safety and Quality Conference Nov. 3-4 in Beijing

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