Looking back at the previous year to see what our readers saw as important and a look ahead to make predictions for the upcoming year has become an annual year-end rite for TAG. This week we look back at 2020, compiling your most-read TAG newsletters of the year; next week you’ll see what TAG predicts for 2020.
The topics most-read newsletters of 2020 can be grouped into five buckets: COVID-19, Regulation, Intentional Adulteration, Pathogens, and Warnings & Indictments – with COVID-19 unsurprisingly taking nearly half of the top 25 spots. Following is a review of these key food industry issues or events of 2020.
COVID-19. As the months have passed, it has become more and more difficult to remember a time before COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. But to jog your memory a bit, we’ll take you back first to February 13 when TAG posted its first coronavirus article (which was the most-read article of all of 2020).
At that time there were two key questions: whether the virus can be transmitted through food and what to do if someone in your workforce has been to China/become infected with COVID-19. With the virus taking hold in the U.S. not long after, TAG began addressing COVID-19 issues and concerns on a daily basis, providing updates through a dedicated newsletter. While we would never have expected to still be publishing a COVID-focused newsletter (albeit three times a week by year-end) at the end of 2020, businesses continue to have questions and concerns, so TAG continues to provide answers and solutions – currently focused primarily on vaccines.
As another highly read article shows, the question of food transmission continued to be asked months later (and continues even today), when TAG posted “COVID-19 and Food: Contact but not Transmission.” Then, as now, we answered, although the virus can live on surfaces for a short period of time, there is no evidence that it can be transmitted through food.
Other key COVID topics were applying lessons learned from China; how companies can maintain food safety while keeping workers safe; developing a COVID-19 response plan; and updates on FDA, FSIS, and GFSI policies and exceptions due to COVID. From those, then many articles began transitioning to further phases of the virus and U.S. restrictions, such as ensuring your business continuity, the road to recovery, and, even, can we test our way back to business. While this is not intended to be a predictive article, we fully expect COVID issues and concerns to continue well into 2021 – and its impacts to be evident much, much longer.
Regulation. The second most prominent topic of the top-read newsletters was that of (again not surprisingly) regulation. Many still had coronavirus overtones, such as “Ensuring Food Safety Despite Reduced Regulatory and Standards Oversight,” in which we discussed the postponements of FDA inspections due to the various state stay-at-home orders. But there were certainly other regulatory aspects that continue to be of concern, including those of cage-free regulations and their impact on food safety, the proposed traceability rule requirements, and the proposed FSIS standards.
Intentional Adulteration (IA). With the FDA (finally) releasing the third and last installment of the draft guidance for FSMA’s Intentional Adulteration (IA) Rule on February 13 and inspections set to begin in March, food defense became a prominent topic of 2020. That is, it was prominent in February before FDA inspections were sidelined due to COVID-19. But it did resume importance during the summer when FDA announced that it would be resuming on-site, prioritized food facility inspections – and conducting a post-investigative Food Defense Quick Checks. The stay-at-home orders of the pandemic also sidelined Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessment (IAVA) training for a time, negating the ability of facilities to add a Food Defense Qualified Individual who was certified to conduct the assessments. But in September, the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) instituted a limited-time pilot policy allowing for virtual registration and delivery of course by an IAVA Lead Instructor. And with two IAVA-FDQI Lead Instructors of its own, TAG began conducting the course virtually.
Pathogens. Throughout the year, TAG also continued to emphasize the need to continue to focus on food safety, despite the significant challenges of the pandemic. While fewer recalls were occurring in 2020, there were a number of multistate outbreaks and clusters of illnesses, some of which were traced back to certain foods (such as the surprising peach and onion Salmonella outbreaks – and some that were not (e.g., three E. coli outbreaks). Pathogenic studies also brought new light to some ongoing issues, including the microbial contaminants in flour that continue to cause consternation for millers and suppliers, for which a report from Germany put the issue back in the spotlight and illustrated the challenge of managing risks in a food that is inherently not ready-to-eat but is often treated as such.
Petitions, Warnings & Indictments. The importance of continuing to focus on food safety and compliance was brought home by continued food safety indictments and FDA warning letters, as well as a citizen petition issued during the year. Although FDA temporarily postponed routine inspections, the Department of Justice (DOJ) remained active, announcing the resolution of food company criminal cases along with the recent building of momentum in the realm of food-related litigation.
Overall, nearly everything that occurred in 2020 reflected COVID-19 undertones in some way, and TAG newsletter subscribers have stayed on top of these through both the weekly newsletters and the special COVID-19 newsletters – both of which we will continue in 2021 to keep the industry updated.
As we wrap up 2020, we wish to thank you, our readers,
for your continued interest and support of TAG.
We look forward to continuing to serve you
in 2021 and beyond.