FDA issues affordable traceability challenge to food industry

The FDA has issued a challenge to the US food industry to digitise its supply chain and introduce traceability systems that can be used to rapidly identify contaminated, fraudulent or otherwise illegal products and remove them from the marketplace.

The US regulator wants technology providers, public health advocates, entrepreneurs and innovators to develop low- or no-cost tools for traceability, overcoming the affordability barrier that the agency says is holding back adoption in the food sector.

Preventing foodborne illness is the primary objective, but it's clear that widespread use of traceability systems will also be a powerful weapon in the fight against food fraud, such as adulteration and counterfeiting of food products.

"Making the food supply more digitally enabled and food more traceable will speed the response to outbreaks and deepen our understanding of what causes them and how to prevent them from happening again," said acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock.

"We hope to find new, innovative ways to encourage firms of all sizes to voluntarily adopt tracing technologies," she added.

Last year, the FDA proposed a new rule that will lay the foundation for 'farm-to-table' traceability across the US food industry.

It applies to organisations that manufacture, process, pack or hold foods the regulator has designated for inclusion on a food traceability list, which includes foods that pose particular safety risks such as foodborne illnesses.

The new challenge is asking for submissions for tech-enabled solutions that address the traceability needs for primary producers such as farming and fishing, importers, manufacturers/processors, and distributors, as well as retailers and foodservice outlets.

"Digitising data at no- or low-cost through the use of creative financial models allows the entire food system to get smarter together," said Frank Yiannas, deputy FDA commissioner for food policy and response.

"Through this initiative, we are committed to helping ensure that even small companies can use and benefit from new tracing technologies," he added.

The FDA will accept submissions from June 1 to July 30 and is hoping to announce up to 12 winners at the end of the challenge. No cash prizes will be awarded, but the winners will have the opportunity to present their work publicly in a webinar planned for September.

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