2013 was an interesting and eventful year in food safety, and we fully expect 2014 to be just as much so. Let us know if you agree …
1. FSMA Final & Proposed Rules
Preventive control for human food and produce – We predict that FDA will be scrambling to get through the comments, so that it can draft another round and get that out for further comments before taking the rule to final in 2015. However, we would expect a very short comment period – of perhaps 60 days – on the revised proposal. In the next version, we also expect to see supplier controls and environmental monitoring, and possibly finished product testing for high-risk foods.
Food defense – With the new proposed FSMA rule on Food Defense requiring training, we would expect to see a lot of new “expert” offerings in this area. We would thus caution the industry to ensure that any such trainers with whom they contract truly are experts in the area. As with the previous proposed rules, FDA is seeking a great deal of comment, and we would expect that industry and industry associations will have a great deal of interesting comment for FDA. (Next week’s newsletter will provide more in-depth coverage of the proposed rule, including some “oddities” we’ve found, the rule’s correlation with GFSI, etc.
Sanitary transport rule – We would expect a proposed rule to be released in the first quarter; and it is likely that it will put trucking companies in a tail spin. They currently do the minimum and this could really shake them up and have them looking for solutions around reducing food safety risk.
Deadlines – It seems likely that FDA will miss the court-ordered deadlines at some point, and that the Center for Food Safety will re-initiate lawsuits against the agency when it does. We would hope that the courts will be sensible and reconsider or stay the deadlines allowing FDA to do a proper job of thoroughly vetting and issuing a complete and well-thought out rule, but court-imputed deadlines may indeed continue to be a reality with which FDA must contend.
Funding – The question of funding, where it will come from and how FDA will use it will also continue to be at issue.
2. Poultry Modernization Act
We predict that the flurry of activity related to chicken will continue into 2014. This prediction is borne out by two new reports released in late December concerning bacteria in raw poultry and USDA actions and regulations. In “Weaknesses in FSIS’ Salmonella Regulation
,” The Pew Charitable Trusts criticizes FSIS’ approach to curbing Salmonella and the agency’s handling of the 2013 outbreaks, while “The high cost of cheap chicken
” from Consumer Reports discusses findings of high levels of bacteria in 97 percent of randomly purchased raw chicken breasts, with Salmonella, Campylobacter or E. Coli found in most of the brands, including antibiotic-resistant strains. Already, the report has led to a letter from the magazine’s advocacy group to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well a statement from the National Chicken Council stated that eliminating naturally occurring bacteria entirely is not feasible and that all bacteria can be killed with proper cooking. We don’t expect any such association, consumer, or media advocacy to end anytime soon.
As the industry continues to prepare for FMSA, and especially the preventive controls rule, one of two things may occur: Facilities may clean up their act, so there are fewer recalls; or Companies may look harder for problems and find them, resulting in more recalls. … Or both!
In either case, we are overdue for a horrible outbreak that will have FDA off guard, and both Congress and consumers screaming that nothing has changed and that, despite all the promises for a focus on food safety by the Obama administration, we are in status quo!
4. GMOs and Nano
It is likely that we will see more GMO labeling initiatives and a call for a more uniform approaches, both in the U.S. and globally. However, it seems to be a small subset of consumers that really care, so the real question for 2014 is whether this will become a mainstream issue, and how much education will be needed for consumers to understand the full extent of GMOs, including its beneficial uses. Very similar perspectives and questions are applicable for nano. Will it be the next GMO? Or will it go even bigger? Even more important and interesting will be whether and how nano will be regulated or approved for use, as GRAS, in food additives and/or indirect additives in food-contact packaging.
We may see FDA expand its focus to front-of-pack labeling issues in 2014. It is an ongoing discussion point by the Agency, but, thus far, no action has been taken. This may or may not get any further in the new year. On the other hand, we would expect to see more stringent requirements on heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, especially for imported foods
Regardless of the accuracy of the above predictions, we are quite certain that the food safety landscape will continue to be active, eventful and bring new concerns, issues, or aspects that none of us can predict at this time. As such, we look forward to an interesting year – and wish you all a happy, healthy, and profitable 2014.