“The way consumers access food continues to evolve from around the corner to around the world with an ever-changing last mile,” Frank Yiannas, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, said yesterday at an event conducted by the National Environmental Health Association and Environmental Health Australia to mark World Food Safety Day.
He explained: “Before the pandemic, research indicated that online grocery shopping would have a 20% share of consumer food spending within the next few years. But the pandemic has rapidly accelerated this trend, with one study reporting that food retailers saw online sales jump more than 300% in the first several months of the pandemic.”
This acceleration of online shopping and new paths of purchase for consumers raises questions about who ‘owns’ the food in the last mile, and whether they are effectively covered by current food safety regulations and requirements.
'Potential food safety vulnerabilities'
Yiannas said the FDA will host this fall a New Business Model Summit “to gain a greater understanding of evolving direct-to-consumer business models and explore the best ways to address potential food safety vulnerabilities.”
As part of FDA’s assessment of who “owns the food in the last mile,” the agency says it will educate delivery services, such as the US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and others, on the importance of proper food handling.
The agency also is working with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other industry stakeholders to educate consumers on safe handling of delivered food to their home, Yiannas said.
This includes time and temperature considerations, tamper-resistant packaging and how to reduce cross-contamination, the FDA notes in materials outlining its 'New Era of Smarter Food Safety,' which builds on the past 10 years of progress under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
In addition to working with consumers and delivery partners, the agency will work with manufacturers and other stakeholders to encourage the development and “use of technology that automatically monitors product risk factors, including time, temperature, tamper resistance and traceability information,” the FDA notes.
Finally, the agency says it hopes to “facilitate the safe development of new food ingredients and production technologies to foster product innovation and market access in a safe and timely way.”
Creating a culture of safety
The pandemic also accelerated the need for a food safety culture that doesn’t just keep consumers safe, but also food workers.
As such, Yiannas said, the FDA is working with regulatory partners “to provide the food industry with resources on safe practices to help reduce the risk of infection.”
This includes a new data analysis tool, 21 Forward, that helps with vaccination planning and providing key information to states about food and agriculture workers in their counties, he noted.
The agency’s focus on limiting food safety risks all the way from the farms to consumers’ kitchen underscores the premise that “food safety is everyone’s business” and “requires collaboration,” Yiannas said.
Ultimately, he added, “It’s a shared responsibility and we’ve all got a stake in this.”