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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week announced what it called "an unprecedented advancement in foodborne illness prevention through the finalization of a rule to more effectively trace contaminated food through the food supply, whether sourced in the U.S. or abroad.

"The final rule establishes additional traceability record-keeping requirements for those that manufacture, process, pack or hold certain foods, including fresh leafy greens, nut butters, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables and ready-to-eat deli salads. In collaboration with industry, the FDA will be able to more rapidly and effectively identify the origin and route of travel of certain contaminated foods to prevent or mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks, address credible threats of serious adverse health consequences or death, and minimize overly broad advisories or recalls that implicate unaffected food products."

“This rule lays the foundation for even greater end-to-end food traceability across the food system that we’re working on as part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative,” said Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, in a prepared statement. “This standardized, data-driven approach to traceability record-keeping helps create a harmonized, universal language of food traceability that will help pave the way for industry to adopt and leverage more digital, interoperable and tech-enabled traceability systems both in the near term and the future.”

FMI-The Food Industry Association released the following statement from its Chief Public Policy Officer, Jennifer Hatcher, responding to the FDA move:

“We will analyze the 597-page final rule on traceability released today to understand the range of its impact on our member companies. Since the proposed rule was released, we have continually urged FDA to release a Supplemental Rule rather than moving straight to a final rule given the volume and complexity of changes commenters urged FDA to make. We believed a Supplemental Rule was a critical step to ensure that a final regulation is consistent with the statutory mandate and realistic in terms of the ability of companies of all sizes to comply.  

“It is already clear that implementation of the requirements in the rule will demand tremendous investments of time and resources across the entire food industry, and it looks like this rule significantly exceeds the statutory authority, both written and intended, by Congress. FMI and our members work every day to further strengthen the safety of our food supply and the continued rapid removal of any impacted products. This work needs to be done in the most efficient, consistent manner across all elements of the food supply chain with the least possible impact on food prices, greatest impact on results, and consistency with the intent of the law passed in 2011. Based on our quick review of this incredibly complex rule, it does not accomplish this.

“FMI and our members remain committed to further strengthening the most robust food safety system in the world and will continue to work every day to improve and enhance our food safety efforts and culture.”

KC's View:

I'm not an expert on food safety issues, but I do know this - whether the FDA issues a "final rule" or a "supplementary rule" is pretty much irrelevant to shoppers, who only want to know that the industry is doing everything possible to keep the food supply.  That means being able to move quickly and efficiently whenever a problem is detected.  And while I'm sure some think the approach draconian, I've always kind of liked the idea that companies were required to be be able to provide traceability data on-demand, and if they can't do it, executives would be held responsible.  (I've always thought that just one highly publicized perp walk would be enough to guarantee total industry cooperation.)