The FDA Has Defined a New “Blueprint for the Future,” and the Seafood Industry Must Act Now 

The “New Era of Smarter Food Safety” guidance will require a more technology-centric traceability system. Here’s what you need to know.

Oysters with a barcoded label
by Your Edge Contributor
November 29, 2021

This post was written by Chip Terry, Ph.D., CEO of BlueTrace, a Zebra Reseller.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is not new. Congress passed the law in 2011 to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the ability to initiate mandatory recalls and a host of other powers over the food industry. In 2020, the FDA proposed a major update to the rules called “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety: A Blueprint for the Future.” Although the final rules will not be published until 2022, the four core elements are clear:  

  • tech-enabled traceability
  • smarter tools
  • food safety culture
  • new business models

There are lots of words and implications in the rules, and you can read more on the FDA website.

But the key update to note is Section 204 in which the FDA details its plans to “harmonize the Key Data Elements and Critical Tracking Events for enhanced traceability.”  The goal is to have end-to-end traceability that can enable tracebacks in seconds – instead of the current system that often fails and generally takes weeks. Here is our take on what this means for the seafood industry:  

  1. Seafood gets special attention: The FDA ran risk models on what foods lead to the biggest food safety issues. All seafood (except scallop abductor muscles and catfish) ended up on the list along with leafy greens, eggs and numerous other products. 
  2. New acronyms (KDE and CTE) get added to hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) systems: For most distributors, the system will build on their existing HACCP program by mandating the tracking of Key Data Elements (KDEs) through Critical Tracking Events (CTEs).
  3. Digital data is required: The mandate is for nearly every food supply chain participant to provide a sortable spreadsheet to the FDA within 24 hours of request – essentially meaning that most companies must have a digital record to comply.
  4. Lot codes are key:  Harvesters are required to put a unique identifier (lot code) on each harvest and that information should travel with the product through the supply chain. 
  5. The first mile will be the hardest: Harvesters and growers are expected to collect and pass key information (including a lot code) about every harvest to the first buyer.
  6. Interaction with other regulations is unknown: Most notably the shellfish regulations which already require very similar information and tracking (minus the digital pieces). 
The seafood industry supply chain

Although the goal of safer food is a good one and the specific rules are under final revision, the impact on the seafood industry could be far reaching. Here are some of the biggest challenges we see for adoption: 

  1. Small non-technical suppliers: Fishermen and growers are great at a lot of things. Technology is generally not one of those things. From that oyster farmer in a Carolina skiff to the lobsterman or the long liner, most harvesters are not using a lot of technology. 
  2. Long supply chains: Five-plus stops in a chain is not unusual. Passing information between all those players seamlessly is a big task. This requires new protocols and standards.  
  3. Fast turnaround: No one wants rotting fish. Inventory churn is measured in minutes and hours, not days and weeks.  
  4. Employee turnover is a real problem and there are often language problems: There is little appetite for hiring tech folks or spending large amounts training new employees.  
  5. Data sharing: Most companies do not want to share who they buy from and who they sell to with others in the chain. Traceability challenges that business practice. 

Anyone who has spent time on a fishing vessel or seafood processing plant knows that most companies still use a lot of paper and don’t have the systems needed to meet the FDA’s vision of, “food traced to its source in seconds.”  Not to mention, “alerting consumers in real time before contaminated or misbranded foods are consumed.”

Easy to print waterproof tags play a key role in meeting this challenge. Printing via Bluetooth® to a mobile or industrial printer means folks can work where they are, store the data in the cloud, and link it all together through QR codes. 

There is a lot more to come about this rule, but now is a good time to start thinking about your digital strategy.  How do you collect, store and transfer key information about your product?  

There are solutions out there (including BlueTrace) and you should look at a few.  

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Related Insights and Guidance:

 

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Your Edge Contributor
Zebra will occasionally publish insights from members of our partner community, our customers and other subject matter experts across the global industries we serve on the Your Edge blog. Background information about each individual author can be found at the bottom of their contributed blog post.
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