FDA Food Safety Plan identifies blockchain for supply chain traceability.
Last October, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hosted a summit to better understand how human and animal foods are sold through business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce models in the United States and in the world. The meeting was a direct response to the pandemic and the growing number of people ordering food online. As such, there is a new need to establish an action plan to address potential food security vulnerabilities, including those that may arise during the last mile of delivery.
Topics discussed at the three-day event included types of B2C e-commerce models (i.e. meal kit subscription services and ghost kitchens); types of delivery models (i.e. third-party delivery and autonomous delivery, such as drones); security risks associated with food sold through B2C e-commerce; the standards of care used by the industry to control these security risks; regulatory approaches to food sold online; and labeling of foods sold through e-commerce.
This followed the introduction of the FDA New era of smarter food safety plan first introduced in 2020 (and suspended due to the pandemic), which identifies future courses of action to address the impact of new food delivery business models on food vulnerability. The plan builds on the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and states, “The world is changing rapidly and we are in the midst of a food revolution…foods are being reformulated, new foods and new Food production methods are being realized, and the food system is increasingly digitized.
To this end, the master plan revolves around four main elements: technology-based traceability; smarter tools and approaches for epidemic prevention and response; new business models and retail modernization; and the culture of food safety.
Let’s focus on technology traceability, because the first step in FDA’s work will be to complete the development of FSMA Section 204 rules to harmonize the key data elements and critical tracking events needed for a better traceability. Ultimately, the goal is to have end-to-end traceability throughout the food safety system. And part of that, according to the blueprint, is to “implement an internal digital technology system, such as blockchain, to receive critical tracking events and key data elements from industry and regulatory partners.”
Section 204 sets stricter record keeping requirements for certain foods (cheeses, nut butters, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables, fish, ready-to-eat salads, etc.). The rule creates a standardized approach to keeping traceability records. And blockchain is the key.
It’s not a new concept. Automation World wrote about how Walmart is using blockchain to onboard vendors to the IBM Food Trust platform. IBM Food Trust uses blockchain to create visibility and accountability in the food supply chain by connecting producers, processors, distributors and retailers through an authorized, permanent and shared record of food system data in a ledger unchangeable to ensure product quality.
A reminder of what blockchain in the supply chain is and is not. They are not cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin. It is the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies and other applications by providing a secure and decentralized approach to distributing digital information in a way that can be shared but not changed.
The FDA encourages increased use of blockchain. “More complete traceability through access to records of key data elements associated with critical tracking events in food production and distribution has the potential to help us identify the exact sources of food implicated in the outbreak,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA safety commissioner for food policy. and response, in a press release. “Not only does this help us remove potentially dangerous products from the market more quickly, preventing further illness or death, but it also helps us conduct root cause investigations to determine what went wrong in the process. ‘epidemic.”
The problem has been a lack of data. Data, too, can not only create more traceability, but, as we’ve seen in other manufacturing applications, could lead to predictive analytics.
The question is, can blockchain solve food traceability in the supply chain, which is now extended – via e-commerce – to last mile delivery, and ultimately to the consumer? Will a consumer receive a text message stating that the bag of lettuce they just purchased is linked to a foodborne illness outbreak? The answer is probably “Yes”. This is what the FDA New era of smarter food safety plan aims to do. But that’s up to food and beverage manufacturers to find out.