Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the New Era of Smarter Food initiative and blueprint to leverage technology such as blockchain to create a safer, digital, and traceable food supply chain.
The announcement was due in March this year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the months that have followed, it has become even clearer — from our experiences with the pandemic and the lessons we have been learning as part of the FDA’s response to it — just how essential the actions outlined in this blueprint are and, if anything, that they are more important now, than ever,” said Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of Food and Drugs at FDA.
The blueprint builds upon the existing Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which focuses on preventing food-borne illnesses rather than purely responding to it later.
In preparation the FDA held workshops focused on four core elements covering technology enabled traceability, tools for preventing and responding to outbreaks, business models and retail modernization, and food safety culture
The FDA aims to advance traceability systems to identify contaminated foods, trace them to their origin and cut the supply. The first step would be to standardize key data elements from the supply chain and critical tracking events for better traceability.
Additionally, the FDA will run pilots and implement an internal system which may leverage blockchain to receive critical tracking events and data elements.
Solutions for illness prevention and outbreak response
The traceability systems would generate new data streams, and the FDA said it would explore new tools and approaches to analyze the risks. It is implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to strengthen the review of imported foods at the point of entry and ensure compliance with U.S. food safety standards.
New Business models and retail modernization
In the current pandemic, consumers have turned to online portals for food delivery. The FDA said it would work with regulatory partners and other stakeholders to address food safety vulnerabilities. On the retail side, the agency says that restaurants and retail establishments are often the nexus of outbreaks. It wants to see digital tools employed to encourage handwashing and monitoring of food temperature.
A new culture of food safety
The regulator will foster education, training, and research to influence attitudes towards food safety. Additionally, it will help consumers access and utilize new technologies and engage new partners in a coalition to promote food safety.
Last month, standards body GS1 US ran a blockchain trial to exchange traceability data. The test participants included FoodLogiQ, IBM Food Trust, ripe.io and SAP. Just last week, MarinTrust supported using blockchain for traceability of fish and fish byproducts.