Traversing the “Sea Change” of Today’s Food Revolution
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
We all know that the recent romaine lettuce outbreaks and recalls, as well as those of other leafy greens, cause distrust among consumers, but FDA Deputy Commissioner of Food policy and Response Frank Yiannas sees these as even more harmful to the industry, stating in a IAFP Keynote that “The damage that the recent leafy green outbreaks have done to consumer trust is irreparable.”
And as anyone who knows anything about Yiannas and his former lives at Disney and Walmart knows, he does not just make statements, he takes action. As such, he has made the 2022 Produce Safety Rule water quality compliance date “a personal priority,” one on which he has taken action – and sees the produce industry as doing so as well: Agricultural water is being treated, inspections are being done, and he is working with the produce industry on traceability. "Together,” he said, “We will find an answer to strengthen the safety of fresh leafy greens."
A few months ago we wrote about our predictions for Yiannas’ term as deputy commissioner, citing his New Era of Smarter Food Safety co-statement, with Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless, which focused “primarily on traceability and transparency using today’s available technologies and the importance of industry collaboration.” After hearing his IAFP keynote, we reiterate, and reemphasize, that expectation.
As Yiannas noted, there is a lack today of tech-enabled traceability and outbreak response, and yet there is available technologies that can do this – as proven by the blockchain pilot he initiated during his time at Walmart. As explained by Yiannas, he – literally – put a mango on the table at a Walmart meeting asking that it be traced back to its source. At that time, he said, it took 6 days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes to traceback to the source. Once the pilot blockchain pilot was in place – it took 3 seconds, he said. Yiannas called this “Traceability at the speed of thought."
And don’t expect Yiannas, or FDA, to stop there. In fact, he said, they are currently working on a pilot using artificial intelligence (AI). It is such initiatives as this – as well as those being conducted by the industry itself – that led to his statements that “We are at the threshold of a sea change…. We’re in midst of new food revolution.” In fact, he ventured, “We’ll see more changes in food world in next 10 years than past 30. But we need more modern approaches to achieve it.”
I have no doubts that we will continue on this trajectory and the “sea change” will be driven, at least in part, by Yiannas. He is doer, and a huge believer in technology and its ability to significantly improve food safety. Having been on the private side of the food industry for three decades, he understands your business, probably better than any FDA official before him – and sees the strength and power of working together. “There's so much more we can do together. Wherever we are in the world, public or private, at the end of the day, we’re all serving the same boss – the consumer.”
But, can Yiannas drive change through consensus in the absence of regulation? While at Walmart Yiannas had a lot of “regulatory” authority and did not have to drive change and Walmart requirements through consensus by simply passing a “Walmart requirement”. A “Walmart requirement” meant that suppliers comply with those requirements or are not able to do business with Walmart.
I am very much aligned with the idea of increased use of technology – especially for traceability, and to use it for both food safety and better inventory control to leverage the ROI. Food companies that are not keeping up with technology innovation are missing opportunities.
So, I would advise all in the industry – farm to retail; raw to finished product; supplier, processor, or distributor – to inform yourself on today’s (and tomorrow’s) technologies. Are there any you can implement to strengthen your food safety, your traceability? And keep a close eye on FDA (we will be doing this for you as well). It’s not, as they say, your grandfather’s FDA. We are “in the midst of a new food revolution,” and you will need to either keep up … or be left behind.
Need to understand where your gaps lie? What you need to do to “keep up”? Give TAG a call, we can help.
About The Acheson Group (TAG)
Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. www.AchesonGroup.com