Retail food safety professionals met in January 2022 to prioritize their work over the next year and set food safety initiatives. FMI’s longstanding Food Protection Committee (FPC) has been in place for decades and works to develop solutions to address the biggest challenges facing the retail and wholesale industry.
The 2022 Food Safety Priorities are:
- New Era of Smarter Food Safety Initiative including e-commerce
- Retailer food safety leadership development and employee training
- Produce safety
- Recall management
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Traceability Proposed Rule was published in September 2020 and is required to be finalized by November 2022. Food traceability plays a critical role in foodborne illness investigations and retailers have various systems in place to help identify products at different points in the supply chain. The rule as proposed by the FDA is complex and impractical given the business relationships, systems and records currently used by the industry. The FPC will continue to work on implementing food tracing systems in anticipation of the final regulations expected later this year.
New Era of Smarter Food Safety
In July 2020, the FDA released the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint outlining their approach to advance food safety by detailing FDA’s plans to leverage technology and other tools to improve the safety of the food supply. The blueprint looks to both the public and private sectors and how they, in partnership, can work to identify and implement solutions that will help achieve the shared goal of protecting public health.
FDA’s initiative is not based on rulemaking or any regulations; rather, it focuses on developing best practices, enhancing information sharing and incentivizing the adoption of new tools and technologies, among others. The FPC sees value in FDA’s initiative and will continue to work with the broader food industry as well as the FDA to modernize practices and advance food safety. One specific topic of interest to the FPC is FDA’s work on e-commerce and the industry wants to work with the FDA to ensure that food produced or delivered using new business models is safe.
Retailer Food Safety Leadership Development and Employee Training
The role of the food safety professional is changing with advances in technology, science and business practices. The FPC looks to develop tools, criteria and best practices to support the future of the profession and cultivate the necessary skills to support retailers and wholesalers in the coming years. In addition, the focus on food handlers and food managers continues as we anticipate the next edition of the FDA Food Code as well as determining how to meet the food safety training needs of a changing workforce.
FPC members remain committed to making sure that produce is as safe as possible. Multiple produce outbreaks and recalls over the years have impacted consumer trust, consumer health and resulted in millions of pounds of product being discarded. Leafy green safety as well as reoccurring outbreaks of Salmonella and the parasite Cyclospora are of concern to the industry. The FPC remains committed to sourcing safe product as well as working with public health and the produce industry to make a difference and protect public health.
FDA’s proposed produce safety regulations on agricultural water were published in December 2021, and when final, will complete the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule which applies to produce growers and production agriculture. Water has been identified as a concern in many outbreak investigations and the FPC will be evaluating the proposed rule and intends to submit comments to the FDA.
Recalls are an unwelcome activity for the entire food industry. When there is a recall, retailers and wholesalers must act quickly with its business partners, food manufacturers and processors to remove recalled product from shelves and notify shoppers. Recalls are the last step in the supply chain to remove potentially harmful products from commerce; therefore, it is critical that the recall process is carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Along with prevention efforts, retailers and wholesalers will focus on enhancing the recall process by addressing challenges and concerns related to recall execution, reporting and regulatory requirements. Through the modernization of recall practices, as well as consistent recall communications and classifications, the FPC aims to improve the effectiveness of recalls throughout the supply chain and, most importantly, to consumers.
FMI’s FPC members spend countless hours each year addressing food safety issues and sharing information with the food industry and the scientific community. Through collaboration with various organizations, associations, regulatory agencies and subject matter experts, the FPC will work to address the 2022 Priority Initiatives in order to develop programs and materials that will make a measurable impact in retail food safety. Their time, expertise and creative problem-solving ideas are greatly appreciated and support the larger FMI member community.