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TAG January 6, 2017 0 Comments

As we drive forward into 2017 leaving the past year in the dust, we thought it appropriate to take a look in the rearview mirror at the predictions we had made for 2016 and see how accurate we were. As posted December 30. 2015, our over-arching prediction was that of “More.” Did we get more … More FSMA Focus. With the finalization of the seven major rules of FSMA and the first of the compliance dates occurring in 2016, this was certainly an accurate (if fairly obvious) prediction. While there may have been a number of companies “rushing at the 11th hour to meet the deadlines,” we didn’t really witness a lot of that, likely due to FDA’s extension of some provisions, as well as to the fact the guidance came out so close to deadline, it was virtually impossible to follow all of these in the timeframe allowed. We do still expect that many Food Safety Plans aren’t completely up to each and every FSMA standard, thankfully FDA seems to be taking a lighter approach to enforcement – at least for now, working with industry rather than against it. More Labeling Issues. With the GMO labeling controversy between the states and federal governments, labeling was definitely a “more” in 2016, though it was a 13th-hour federal ruling, coming in after Vermont’s GMO labeling law took effect, requiring the need to include a provision to pre-empting and barring any state GMO labeling legislation. Though still controversial with many saying the federal law did little to help consumers, the photos of Vermont’s grocery shelves being emptied of many national products the day its law took effect was likely at least one factor in the quieting of the war of words. More recalls. There was certainly no lack of recalls in 2016, but with the largest recall being that for Listeria in frozen vegetables between April and July, which was determined to have caused nine hospitalizations and one death, the media and social media coverage tended to focus more on the ongoing impacts of previous recalls, such as the PCA prison sentences and Chipotle rebuilding of customer trust. While these incidents, and the increased DOJ attention on food, likely caused food companies to keep a close eye on their products, and potentially issue voluntary recalls, there wasn’t a significant wave of such recalls in anticipation of FSMA’s Preventive Controls as some have expected. Whether or not we were accurate on this one, we’ll always prefer being proven wrong over having more recalls! But if not more, there were some very large recalls that had big repercussions in the industry leading to many secondary recalls. More focus on Salmonella as an adulterant. As we expected, USDA finalized new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as in raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings. In finalizing the new standards, USDA also announced that it would begin posting information online about individual companies’ food safety performance. On the positive side, FDA’s release of the 2014-2015 Retail Meat Interim Report which included a focus on antimicrobial resistance in Salmonella isolated from raw retail meat and poultry showed significant reduction in detected resistance to important antibiotics (i.e., ceftriaxone, azithromycin) and fluoroquinolones (i.e., ciprofloxacin). More advancement in Norovirus detection systems. Although norovirus continued to strike in various locations – such as the British cruise ship on which more than 200 passengers fell ill and the Republican National Convention where 13 staffers were struck with the virus (which we actually only just read about in the research for this article!), there was not, unfortunately, a great deal of advancement made in detection systems. However, research does take time, so we can still be hopeful that the incidents of 2015 did lead some scientists to increase focus in this area with results and advances still to come. If not more advancements, there was more focus on Norovirus at the foodservice level as companies worked to put in effective policies to control risks at the restaurant level. More consumer awareness of food sources. Although country of origin labeling (COOL) died a cold death in 2015, we didn’t see that as being the end of consumer demand for knowledge about the source of their food – and we were absolutely correct. Transparency is becoming a buzzword among consumers. When you tie that in with FSMA’s requirements for supply chain controls and verification, it’s becoming all about where food comes from and the process it undergoes to reach the consumer’s table. More social media. Does this even need to be discussed? As our #7 in TAG’s Top 10 of 2016 and #9 of our Top 10 of 2017, social media is a fact of life, and one you’re much better off to participate in so your story is told in your words instead of someone else’s. ‘Nuf said. Less organic/raw. We diverged here in our predictions, expecting less focus on organic and raw foods. While organic continued to carry some weight and sales growth, and raw milk continued to be controversial, the focus on GMOs and general “good for you” foods took much brighter spotlights than either of these in 2016. We would expect this general trend to continue into 2017 as well. More Politics. With one of the most interesting and controversial presidential elections of our time, politics definitely was “more” in 2016. With no huge outbreak to take the political notice off the rival candidates, that more did not extend to any particular focus on food or food safety. Whether or not we will see anything in 2017, we can’t yet know, but, as always, it will be interesting to follow. So there were mores and there were lesses in 2016, but overall our predictions were pretty close. We’ll see how we do in 2017 … About The Acheson Group (TAG) Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG’s team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance.


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