Can Outbreak Prevention Be Smarter and Self-Predict?

July 22, 2021

In 2020, the FDA introduced the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint in order to incorporate technological advancements from the past decade into a modernized food safety regulatory framework. ​

Included in this framework is the core element of Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response. The main objective of this element is to generate more data streams and tools for their predictive analytics capabilities in order to prevent food risks in new and creative ways.

This blog will explain the element of Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response and what it could look like in your business.

Principles

There are 6 main principles of this core element which are summarized below:

Invigorating Root Causes

Root Cause Analysis is defined by HACCP Mentor as the process or procedure guiding people to discover and understand what initiated a problem with the goal of determining missing controls to prevent a reoccurrence.

With this framework, the FDA is looking to standardize and strengthen root cause analysis procedures and report criteria for outbreaks in order to disseminate information quickly and ensure rapid deployment if an outbreak is traced to a certain site. The FDA also suggests using or enhancing communication tools to relay outcomes of root cause analyses in a timely manner.

Additionally, including the data from the root cause analyses into predictive analytical systems to increase the likelihood of predicting contamination in the future.

Strengthen predictive analytics capabilities 

Through strengthening predictive analytic capabilities the FDA is looking to expand artificial intelligence and machine learning tools as well as increasing the quantity and quality of data with expanded use of information-sharing agreements. Included in this is the objective to work to find a balance between transparency and concerns for businesses’ confidentiality when developing predictive analytics.

This framework also mentions developing a public-private bank of data to assess analytical work as well as developing processes to develop processes to analyze non-traditional sources of information that can be used to prevent food risks.

Domestic mutual reliance

This principle focuses on the collaboration of state and federal frameworks for mutual reliance between public health systems. The FDA plans to do this by enhancing mechanisms for data and information sharing as well as advancing integrated approaches to work planning, risk prioritization/categorization, and emergency and incident response coordination.

Inspection, Training, and Compliance Tools

The FDA also looks to modernize and develop the technology already available such as online tools, distance learning models, digital reporting tools and mobile inspection technologies. Prior to this, proofs-of-concept should be conducted to evaluate the feasibility of these technologies for inspections. Additionally, the use of third-party audits will be increased to ensure safer food.

Outbreak response 

To improve responses to outbreaks the FDA plans to accelerate the submission of reports of foodborne illness, increasing the capacity to upload samples to facilitate investigations of outbreaks and improve mechanisms to leverage food industry testing results in order to identify outbreaks. The FDA also looks to use artificial intelligence to mine nontraditional sources of information such as customer reviews and sales trends of medications to predict outbreaks.

Recall modernization 

The FDA states that this principle involves analyzing how to recall information that is communicated to consumers and developing best practices around modern communication channels such as social, media postings, text messages and digital scan prompts. Other plans for this principle include an app alerting consumers about food recalls and register lockdown capabilities to prohibit the sale of recalled food products.

What this could mean for your business

In summary, these specific frameworks are designed to prevent, predict and communicate food safety outbreaks effectively and efficiently. While this is a blueprint and not a regulation, they could mean different challenges for your business involving requirements for:

  • Data sharing and privacy issues between a food company and the FDA
  • The regulated or expected response towards outbreak prevention (including timing for response)
  • Accountability to prevent an outbreak
  • Development procedures to prevent an outbreak (and potentially, testing to predict/ manage the risks
  • Identification of high-risk sectors or targetted sectors or food companies that are prone to recall
  • Requirements or recommended training modules for a food manufacturer, distributors or restaurant/cafe
  • Requirements for reporting foodborne illnesses received from the consumers

On the flip side, it is not always a challenge, it could potentially also means opportunities. With the FDA putting in the resources to develop smarter outbreak prevention, here are a few positive outlooks that we see

  • New apps -allow faster information communication
  • Predictive outbreaks -means we can forecast outbreak before it happens, mitigate the root cause and prevent costly recall
  • Resources developments
  • Enhanced public-private data-sharing network.

References

1, E. S., 21, P. J., & 22, H. A. C. C. P. M. J. (2019, June 6). Root Cause Analysis and the Food Industry. HACCP Mentor. https://haccpmentor.com/root-cause-analysis-and-the-food-industry/.

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-era-smarter-food-safety/new-era-smarter-food-safety-blueprint.