From Soil to Table

Why the FDA’s ‘new era of food safety blueprint’ is the food industry’s road map to the future

By Ryan Yost, vice president and general manager for the Printer Solutions Division of Avery Dennison

Food safety is quickly becoming a top priority for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In the agency’s efforts to develop a comprehensive plan, the FDA invited several food industry leaders to provide their expert insights at a meeting held last fall, and Avery Dennison was one of the few technology companies present. The purpose of the event was to help craft the agency’s approach to the modernization of food safety, which would focus on implementing new and better automation and data solutions. 

In mid-July, the FDA released its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, a 10-year roadmap where technology and other tools will be leveraged to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system. We believe the entire food industry should rally around the Blueprint whose key objective is to bend the curve of foodborne illness in the United States by reducing the number of illnesses due to food safety compromises. The Blueprint outlines achievable goals to enhance traceability, improve predictive analytics, respond more rapidly to outbreaks, address new business models, reduce sources of contamination for food, and foster the development of stronger food safety cultures.  

Although the timing of the FDA Blueprint announcement arrived at a moment when all eyes were riveted on the COVID-19 pandemic, its importance should not be underestimated in the larger, long term objective of securing the future of public health. In fact, some of the lessons of COVID-19 can be applied to ensuring the safety of the food supply and the need for a digitalised supply chain.

Deploying RFID and barcode labels allows recalled products to be located in seconds, quickly identifying the source of outbreaks and pulling them out of the food supply before they cause widespread illness.

The goals outlined by the FDA are achievable through technological advances currently available and those in the pipeline, and requires collaboration between the food ecosystem to achieve greater impact.  It’s also important to understand that technology currently exists to support the immediate launch of the FDA Blueprint’s four pillars: 

Tech-enabled traceability and foodborne outbreak response
Intelligent label solutions integrate digital identities at the first mile to bridge the physical product to digital platforms, such as blockchain and predictive analytics, to provide a secure means for traceability and transparency throughout the entire supply chain. 

RFID tagging solutions can give individual items unique digital identities enabling verifiable chain-of-custody data to be captured throughout the supply chain. These solutions capture and create data that fuels intelligent automation.

Deploying RFID and barcode labels allows recalled products to be located in seconds, quickly identifying the source of outbreaks and pulling them out of the food supply before they cause widespread illness.

Smarter tools and approaches for prevention
Among the many examples of current technology, smart temperature tracking sensors can alert food purveyors that their refrigeration may be failing, before spoiled food gets to end-users. Additionally, as employing dedicated handwashing protocols have been shown to be even more essential, hand scanners are proving to be invaluable. This data collection device uses visible light fluorescence spectroscopy to instantly detect invisible signs of bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness including Norovirus, E. coli, Listeria, Hepatitis A, and Salmonella. 

Adapting to new business models and retail food safety modernization
Touchless retail experiences driven by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to grow in importance. In fact, there is every indication that highly automated stores with self-service ordering, self-checkout, and grab-and-go technology will establish themselves in the retail landscape of the future. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, research indicated that online grocery shopping would have a 20 percent share of consumer food spending within the next few years.  However, during the pandemic, online shopping took on a new importance for consumers sheltering in place, with one survey reporting that 31 percent of U.S. households are already using online grocery services.

Interestingly, age is no longer a factor in who shops online  – 61% of Millennials, 55% of Generation X, 41% of Boomers and 39% of Greatest Generation have recently purchased a CPG product online. To offer a positive online experience,  it’s essential that grocers provide customers with accurate information on inventory, so shoppers are not disappointed by out-of-stock items, short-term expiry dates  and substitutions. 

RFID enables up to 99% inventory accuracy that addresses consumers’ growing demands and expectations for online shopping. What’s less obvious and equally important, is how RFID provides a touchless technology that offers a huge benefit in terms of hygiene for food workers, by allowing items to be accounted for without needing to be ‘touched’ or manually scanned. That not only reduces the workload, it also helps reduce the spread of infection by reducing the number of hands touching each food item, along the supply chain.

In addition to the role of digital solutions in driving food safety, automating traditionally manual processes in the kitchen should play a major role in how the industry envisions the future.

Food safety culture
A direct digital connection between the consumer and the product can help establish a culture of food safety like never before. We urged the FDA to mandate the use of interoperable standards for globally unique identification and uniform baseline content to be physically and digitally tied to each food supply chain item because this addresses the needs of both the industry and customers. 

It’s essential to follow a standard such as the GS1 Digital Link Standard, which enables any smartphone to access a product’s unique digital identity, trusted product data, and product’s fitness for use through a secure web address via QR code or NFC tag. This technology helps brands connect with their consumers while building the food safety culture, communicating a limitless amount of safety, nutritional, allergen, and other information.

Creating a food safety culture won’t happen overnight. It will encompass every point along the supply chain and become the priority for every food grower, distributor, retailer, restaurant, and consumer. The FDA deserves congratulations from the food industry and all Americans. Its Blueprint provides a road map for using technology to ensure food safety from grower to table. Pandemics will come – and hopefully, go. But the drive to create a food safety culture that embraces technological advances means that foodborne illness will not have the potential to become public health crises.

Ryan Yost is vice president and general manager for the Printer Solutions Division of Avery Dennison. Avery Dennison is at the forefront of global initiatives to modernize food safety with its Freshmarx® suite of intelligent food industry solutions and Freshmarx Connect, which enables data harmonization and data integrity. For more information on Avery Dennison food industry solutions, please visit

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