Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has announced that he will be resigning from his position, effective February 24, 2023. Yiannas joined FDA in 2018 with the goal of helping to modernize the food safety oversight system in the U.S.
According to Yiannas’ letter of resignation, in February 2022, he shared with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. that he was considering leaving the agency due to the decentralized structure of the Human Foods program, which “significantly impaired FDA’s ability to operate as an integrated food team and protect the public.” However, after learning about the infant formula supply and safety crisis that began in February 2022 as a result of contaminated product manufactured by Abbott Nutrition, Yiannas decided to postpone his resignation.
“With the Abbott facility now reopened, infant formula availability more prevalent, and—very importantly—the necessary monitoring, data systems, and insights now in place through the 21 Forward platform to help address the current and any future infant formula supply chain challenges, I believe the time is right for me to leave and vacate this position,” Yiannas writes.
During his tenure as FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response, Yiannas faced unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, food supply chain disruptions, and six different acting or permanent FDA commissioners. Despite such hurdles, under Yiannas, the Human Foods program marked many achievements in the pursuit of modernizing food safety in the U.S., including:
- Advancing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) by issuing the Food Traceability Final Rule that fulfills FSMA 204, as well as the proposed Agricultural Water Standard
- Unveiling the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, and furthering New Era through the Artificial Intelligence (AI) seafood imports pilot, the third-party food safety standards pilot, facilitating tech-enabled traceability, developing 21 Forward, and furthering the concept of food safety culture
- Preventing foodborne illness outbreaks through efforts such as the Leafy Greens Action Plan, breaking the cycle of salmonellosis during the summer linked to imported papayas, and an enhanced food safety partnership between the U.S. and Mexico
- Improving outbreak response by strengthening FDA’s foodborne outbreak investigations and nearly doubling the number of outbreak investigation reports published by the agency, developing a Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan, and updating the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Investigation Table weekly.
In his resignation letter, Yiannas also shares several points for consideration with FDA Commissioner Dr. Califf that echo the Reagan-Udall Foundation’s recent independent review of FDA’s Human Foods Program. Yiannas writes, “I firmly believe the agency would operate more effectively and be better able to protect the American public from foodborne illness with the creation of a more integrated operating structure and a fully empowered and experienced Deputy Commissioner for Foods, with direct oversight of those centers and offices responsible for human and animal foods.”
Yiannas also urges Dr. Califf to consider transferring the Office of Food Policy and Response (OFPR) staff to a new office under the Deputy Commissioner for Foods.