Food and Drug Administration official Mark Moorman acknowledges that the “smarter” era of food safety has not yet arrived.
Moorman, director of FDA’s Office of Food Safety, spoke about the agency’s food safety goals on Aug. 20 at the U.S. Apple Association’s online 125th Annual Crop and Outlook Marketing Conference.
Recall of onions from Thomson International Inc., Bakersfield, Calif., were still occurring as of Aug. 20, Moorman said.
“We’re sitting here three weeks later and the companies that received those onions are just now recognizing these onions are bad and they’re having to pull back,” he said. “For three weeks my family and yours have been exposed to bad onions, and you know what? That’s not OK.”
He reviewed the four pillars of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety:
- Tech-enabled traceability;
- Smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak rsponse;
- New business models and retail modernization; and
- Food safety culture.
He said the vision for the future is for a much more responsive food safety system, with end-to-end traceability.
“What if you were scanning a bag of lettuce at the grocery store, and (the cashier) immediately knew where it came from?” Moorman said. “And you knew that it was tagged as linked to an outbreak of foodborne illness? Or better yet, what if you scan that bag of lettuce and the register didn’t let you take it home?”
The FDA and the public health infrastructure use technologies that identify tainted more quickly, and traceability can help track those foods through the supply chain.
By direction of Congress and a court order, FDA must issue a list of high-risk foods in September that will carry enhanced traceability requirements.
He said the FDA is “technology agnostic.”
“I don’t care what the technology is that enables this to happen, we’re trying to find ways to incentivize (traceability), to pull together the various partners to make this happen,” he said.
Genetic sequencing is allow health officials identify contaminated food more quickly.
One of the “New Era” goals is more consistent investigations.
“What we really want to get to point of where there is some standardization of investigations at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial level, and we all have a standardized investigation approach of root cause analysis, and that we share those results,” he said.
Analyzing big data can also be valuable, he said. The rise of online grocery food deliveries will draw increasing food safety scrutiny at the FDA, he said.
“There are lots of questions that need to be asked in this space,” Moorman said. “Just because there (are) new exciting business models doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
The FDA plans to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the way recalls are communicated. The agency also is doing research in behavioral sciences to understand how food safety culture can be changed within an organization or company.
“I want to be very clear with this group looking very hard and in our own culture and we are asking ourselves how do we influence consumer behavior,” he said.
Asked whether apples are low risk because they don’t come in contact with the ground, Moorman noted the current recall of peaches, which are linked to an outbreak of salmonella.
“I would agree in general that apples are a lower-risk (food), but all of us should remain humble, and recognize that the world of microbiology is causing us to rethink assumptions,” he said.