FDA Launches Projects to Improve Product Tracing in Food Supply Chain

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January, requires the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish at least two pilot projects: one involving produce and one involving processed foods.

Last week, the FDA announced that two pilot projects are underway. These pilots, designed to enable both the agency and the food industry to better trace products responsible for foodborne illness outbreaks, will evaluate methods and technologies for rapid and effective tracing of foods, including:

types of data that are useful for tracing,

ways to connect the various points in the supply chain and

how quickly the data is made available to the FDA.

Key stakeholder groups from industry, government and consumers will have input into the pilots, and the FDA also will make efforts to include those representing the food supply chain from farms to restaurants and grocery stores.

After completing the pilots and gathering additional data, the agency will begin rulemaking on recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods to facilitate tracing. Step one will be to define high-risk foods, considering such factors as:

the known risks of a food based on foodborne illness data,

the likelihood that a particular food has a high potential risk for contamination, and

the likely severity of an illness attributed to a particular food.

"We can prevent illnesses and reduce the economic impact to the food industry if we can more quickly determine what foods may be causing an outbreak and what foods can be eliminated from consideration," said Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods. "We recognize the importance of engaging stakeholders throughout the process and will consider what is practical for facilities of varying sizes and capabilities."

As the FDA points out at its website, many producers, manufacturers and retailers have product tracing systems in place but they vary depending on the amount of information the system records, how far forward or backwards in the supply chain the system tracks, technologies used to maintain records and the precision with which a system can pinpoint a product's movement. These pilot projects will help the FDA determine more effective and efficient ways to track and trace high-risk foods within the food supply system.

Much more information on the pilot projects is available here.

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