( Photo courtesy Jonathan Havens )

On April 30, acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Ned Sharpless and Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas unveiled FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, the purpose of which is to implement certain Food Safety Modernization Act requirements using new and emerging technologies. 

Specifically, the agency has committed to developing a “Blueprint for a New Era of Smarter Food Safety” and will hold a public meeting later this year regarding the same.

FSMA provided FDA with new enforcement authorities designed to achieve higher rates of compliance with prevention- and risk-based food safety standards and to better respond to and contain problems when they do occur.   

FDA views the New Era of Smarter Food Safety plan as the next step in its implementation of FSMA, through which it can identify: 

  • A process to digitally track food through the supply chain in a similar manner to tracking packaged goods; 
  • New technologies (e.g. distributed ledgers, sensors, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence) that can be used to create transparency in the food system; and
  • The appropriate standard of care in evolving business models such as e-commerce of food.

Although it remains to be seen which technology or technologies discussed above, if any, FDA will mandate, it is possible that any of the approaches noted could significantly enhance traceability in the food supply chain. 

For example, imagine being able to digitally track produce throughout the supply chain. In October 2018, IBM launched a blockchain produce tracker called IBM Food Trust. 

It has been reported that the technology allows for growing, processing, and transportation information to be traced and shared across the industry, and that the solution can “reduce the checking time for provenance from days or weeks to seconds.”   

As stakeholders well know, compliance is not cheap. The benefits of enhanced food safety aside, FSMA compliance has been an expensive proposition. As it considers weighing in on the smarter food safety docket at FDA, one thing that the industry will want to evaluate is what additional costs it will have to bear in order to adopt the technology or technologies FDA is considering. 
Jonathan Havens is a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., where he is the chairman of the firm’s Food and Beverage Practice. Rebekah Nickerson, co-author, was a 2019 summer associate at Saul Ewing and is a third-year student at The University of Baltimore School of Law.