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U.S. FDA Issues Food Traceability Challenge

Hand holding digital tablet with blank screen and financial graphics.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a challenge to digitise the data in the food distribution system so contaminated food can be rapidly identified, traced and removed from the marketplace.  The FDA’s Low- or No-Cost Tech-Enabled Traceability Challenge is asking technology providers, public health advocates, entrepreneurs and innovators from all disciplines and from around the world to develop low- or no-cost hardware, software and data analytics tools that can rapidly identify the sources of contaminated food and help remove it from the marketplace as quickly as possible.

The FDA strives to work with stakeholders to explore low-cost or no-cost options so that their approaches are inclusive of and viable for human and animal food operations of all sizes. By democratising the data throughout the entire food system, the FDA aims to enable food operations of all sizes to implement affordable, interoperable traceability tools that will create shared value and scale to encourage widespread adoption.

This challenge is administered by precisionFDA, which provides a secure, cloud-based, high-performance computing platform that engages a community of over 5,000 users across the world to research, collaborate, and define standards for evaluating omics tests, analytical and bioinformatics pipelines, and regulatory science exploration.

The FDA’s challenge also seeks to promote innovation. The FDA  encourages the creation of financial models that provide solutions that are proportional to benefits derived from participating, and enable food producers of all sizes to participate in a scalable, cost-effective way. This initiative is in line with The New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint that is centred around four core elements:

  1. Tech-enabled Traceability
  2. Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
  3. New Business Models and Retail Modernisation
  4. Food Safety Culture

The foundational pillars cover the range of technologies, analytics, business models, modernisation and values that are its building blocks. These elements will help create a safer and more digital, traceable food system.

The FDA is advancing traceability to help protect consumers from contaminated products by doing rapid tracebacks, identifying specific sources and helping to remove products from the marketplace as quickly as possible when necessary. They aim to harmonise the key data elements and critical tracking events needed for enhanced traceability.

Establishing this foundation for traceability will allow stakeholders in the supply chain to adopt and leverage digitally-enabled technologies, enable data sharing, and introduce approaches that greatly reduce the time it takes to identify the origin of a contaminated food tied to a recall and/or outbreak. This will also create the transparency needed to anticipate and help prevent supply chain disruptions in a public health emergency, such as a pandemic.

Ultimately, the FDA wants to have end-to-end traceability throughout the food safety system. They want to explore ways to encourage firms to voluntarily adopt tracing technologies and ways to harmonise tracing activities, which will support interoperability across a variety of technology solutions, working towards outcomes that are achievable for all sectors.

The FDA commits to promoting industry adoption by highlighting the wide-ranging benefits of tech-enabled traceability in outreach to the food industry and engaging in conversation with non-traditional stakeholders. The FDA explores ways to recognise the adoption of strong traceability systems in how they approach their food safety oversight activities. They also implement an internal digital technology system, receive critical tracking events and key data elements from industry and regulatory partners.

The FDA also advances its predictive analytics capabilities through the expanded use of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, beginning with expanding the proof of concept completed by the agency on using AI for screening of imported foods at ports of entry.


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