Chain of Foods: FDA Seeks Solution

October 26, 2011

October 26, 2011

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA announced last month that it intends to enhance the agency’s and industry’s ability to trace products back through the supply chain to their source. FDA food supply chain mullet

While the announcement is more "about time" than it is surprising, it's worth noting for companies, quality and compliance managers whose supply line intersects with the FDA.  The announcement represents a pivot where FDA is serious about food supply chain management.

Food supply management background

The Food Safety Modernization Act actually requires the FDA to establish at least two pilot projects:

  1. one involving produce
  2. one involving processed foods

Signed into law in January, the Food Safety Modernization Act also directs the FDA to establish recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods to help in tracing products.

Tracing the food supply chain 

The pilots will evaluate methods and technologies for rapid and effective tracing of foods, starting with identifying:

  1. types of data that are useful for tracing
  2. ways to connect the various points in the supply chain
  3. how quickly the data are made available to the FDA

The Institute of Food Technologists or IFT is a nonprofit scientific society consisting of professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions.  IFT will carry out the pilots at the direction of FDA, under an existing FDA contract.

What food supply chain tracing looks like

A product tracing system involves documenting the production and distribution chain so that a product can be traced back to a common source or forward through distribution channels.  

Such a system is essentially a quality assurance system for material disclosure. 

FDA is a tough customer

It will be interesting to see what systems the FDA decides to experiment with and which they settle on.  It should be noted that the government is a tough customer. Here's why.

From a vendor and support services point of view, as with any government agency, FDA FDA is a client often averted because their needs are highly customized, making for a rigorous implementation, budgets are tight, and the compound support demands often further outweigh their spends.  Typically, a large government project like this is taken by a larger company like IBM or SAP -- or even a well-funded upstart looking for visibility -- as a portfolio piece.  And most of the time teh vendor hopes and prays that the project comes out even.

The National Journal reports that Senate Appropriators gave the FDA about $50 million for food inspection on September 7.  Overall they cut the budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture or USDA, the bill provides $19.78 billion for USDA for fiscal 2012, a decrease of $138 million from this year.

It gives FDA $2.497 billion, up from $2.447 billion in fiscal 2011.

“What we’re looking for is a system that is practical, feasible, and rapid,” says Sherri McGarry, senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Foods.  Okay! 

Collecting and managing supplier data is such a hot topic right now that eyes will certainly be watching these two pilot programs.