Food Safety Issues in the USA – how tech is the solution

Food Safety Issues in the USA - how tech is the solution

Food Safety – An Overview

220 million children suffer from diarrhoeal diseases and 96,000 of them die to the endangering health threats. Not just children, infants, pregnant women, elderly, or the people with underlying illness with reduced immunity are particularly vulnerable, i.e. at a greater risk for hospitalization and pathogens being transmitted through unsafe, unhealthy food. This vicious cycle of foodborne illnesses is a burden on public health and has caught greater attention in the last few years. Food Safety is targeted at tracing the origin of the food to ensure that the food consumed by them is healthier which not only reduces healthcare cost but also ensures longer lives while moving towards a more resilient food industry. Safe food is crucial for rendering support to economies, trade and tourism, contributing to food and nutrition security, and also reinforcing sustainable development.

It is imperative to understand that food safety can be ensured in multiple ways by understanding the behavior and activities that can lead to a decrease in the risk of food-borne illnesses. From farm to fork, every step plays a crucial role in food safety. The investigation of illnesses by identifying the issues, taking appropriate measures, and improving practices can help in greater surveillance. Collaborative efforts by regulatory and public health agencies and consumers can bring a positive change in the United States. To prepare for future challenges, streamlining risk assessment, and monitoring the performance of the regulatory system using technology over and above the current capacity will help strengthen the food safety program.

Food safety challenges in the United States of America (USA)

Food recalls are becoming frequent, when a food producer takes a product off the market because there is reason to believe that it may cause consumers to become ill, mostly requested by government agencies. Food recalls may happen for many reasons,including discovery of organisms, including bacteria such as Salmonella or parasites such as Cyclospora, discovery of foreign objects such as metal or glass pieces and if a major allergen does not appear on the product label. Recently Wawona company has recalled peaches across the U.S. and Canada because of a link to a Salmonella outbreak. Similarly last month it was Onions and the list just expands.

Food Safety Issues in the USA - how tech is the solution

Multiple factors contribute to challenges in Food Safety including but not limited to enormous food production and supply spread thousands of miles away, makes imported foods a high priority case for traceability. Environmental changes also impede upon food contamination, as new and emerging bacteria, toxins, source of animal/vegetable, conditions of rearing, hygiene are all relevant questions related to food quality of the specific brand or country.

Changes in consumer preferences and habits, accelerates the need to be transparent and cautious of labelling food articles. Most food facilities follow the minimum standards and guidelines as laid down by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).

However, below are a few challenges faced at large:

  • Certification of foods: A third-party certification or another form of assurance of foods being imported in the US.

  • Increasing demand requires increased agricultural productivity.

  • Food security systems demand to be robust and fool-proof.

  • Increased focus on collecting real-time data to improve food security and reduce food wastages.

  • Food Majors are scouting for responsible importers that can back their cargo with digital data from their warehouses, including the origin for increased transparency in real-time.

  • FDA can also restrict imports from an exporter if access to information is denied.

  • Natural calamities and increasing hazards due to climatic conditions could affect storage and transportation of perishable food produce.

Technology is the Solution

In order to create a robust and comprehensive food system that is safer, digital, and traceable, the FDA recently launched the “New Era of Smarter Food” initiative with a blueprint of the technological advances. It is aimed at upgrading facilities in the food supply chain using prevalent technologies such as blockchain, IoT, big data analytics among others. This will help the country and FSMA focus on preventing food-borne illnesses.

Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of Food and Drugs at FDA said, “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.”

The blueprints also emphasize four core elements – enhanced traceability using technology, retail modernization, strong response using various tools to pandemic outbreak which has made people more conscious of their food habits, and the culture for food safety.

1. Enhanced Traceability

The FDA aims to implement a system for advanced traceability systems to identify the source of food, their location tracking with inbuilt IoT sensors to identify contaminated food, take necessary precautionary and preventive measures and standardize the process across the global supply chain for increased food security and trust. It will also facilitate the critical tracking of events and data monitoring in real-time.

2. Retail Modernization

Online food delivery has become popular with consumers more than ever after the deadly pandemic shook the entire world. The FDA is willing to work with regulatory authorities and relevant stakeholders to address and resolve the vulnerabilities faced by the industry. The FDA requires digital tools to monitor food temperature to ensure food safety across all stages of the food systems. New business models and increased buzz around food online delivery is giving a rise to new and modern retail culture across the States.

3. Outbreak response and illness prevention

The traceability standards, as discussed earlier, will generate a plethora of data at multiple points. This data using additional tools will be used to analyze associated risks and take corrective and preventive measures. The FDA has outlined the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to strengthen the compliances followed for food imported from elsewhere in the world.

4. Culture of Food Safety

Empowering consumers to access new technologies at a few clicks and by making them aware through training, research, and education to promote food safety and appropriate measures.

The WHO is continuously striving to help improve national food systems and legal frameworks to implement adequate infrastructure to manage food safety risks. The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are available to the entire spectrum of the food value chain for rapid responses, information sharing especially during food safety emergencies. Information about food safety and technology to improve food quality standards globally are the future for safe-food industry.

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