IAFP 2022 Annual Meeting Recap: Data Sharing, Building Trust, and Proactively Managing Food Safety Risks
By iFoodDS Team
August 9, 2022
Our team attended the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) 2022 Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a great opportunity to connect with other professionals and learn about the latest food safety issues. Notably, Frank Yiannas from the FDA and Sandra Eskin from the USDA gave a regulatory update to attendees. Overall, we heard some interesting perspectives on current food safety topics.
For those who couldn’t attend the annual meeting, we’d like to provide a recap. There were three major themes that emerged in the sessions and conversations during the conference:
- Data sharing and privacy concerns
- Leveraging traceability to improve food safety
- New findings on environmental monitoring and food safety
Here are some key takeaways from IAFP 2022.
How Can the Industry Safely Share Data and Protect Trust?
There was a lot of discussion about data sharing during IAFP 2022. The consensus was that there are both benefits and risks to sharing data, and we will never be able to share meaningful data without first building and maintaining trust. The big question we need to answer is, how do we build that trust? Data governance – rules around data sharing and data ownership – is key.
Data Aggregation and Anonymization
Our team attended a few sessions that covered data sharing and the need to protect privacy and reputation. The main theme that emerged was aggregating and anonymizing data to ensure we can access it while protecting the companies that provided it.
Roberta Wagner from the Consumer Brands Association advocated for the use of a third-party intermediary to share data with the government. This could include academia and industry organizations. Going through a third party ensures the data will be “blinded” so companies won’t be identified. Blind data protects reputations and avoids regulatory action.
Brendan Ring of Creme Global shared some case studies that demonstrate how anonymity was protected through double blinding data. In one example, Western Growers anonymized and aggregated their members’ data to allow for analysis without violating data privacy. Part of the appeal of this type of model is that each participant owns the data they submit, so they can maintain control over it.
Mindy Brashears of Texas Tech University emphasized that fostering trust and communication is critical. We won’t make progress if regulatory agencies, industry, and academia don’t communicate with each other. We must build the relationship, understand why the data is needed and what it will be used for, and recognize boundaries around data sharing.
New Considerations for Environmental Monitoring Programs
Our own Claire Zoellner, PhD, moderated a symposium titled, “What Do Fresh-Cut Produce and Low-Moisture Food Processors Have in Common? New Considerations for Environmental Monitoring Programs.” A theme of proactive risk management emerged throughout the session. Leslie Hintz from the FDA shared that the agency expects processors to find pathogens in their environmental sampling. What matters most is the next steps they take. Ms. Hintz encouraged processors to look for pathogens in Zone 1 areas so they can find and fix the root causes. It’s also critical to react to pathogens in Zones 2, 3, and 4 to prevent Zone 1 contamination.
Similarly, Anett Winkler of Cargill, Inc. advocated for a “seek and destroy” approach that doesn’t stop at cleaning and disinfection but rather looks for the root cause of a contamination event and eliminates it. She also recommended routine sampling to identify trends, investigative sampling to identify abnormal conditions, sampling after special events such as construction or repairs, and vector sampling following a positive result (taking additional samples around the positive sample site to see if the contamination has spread).
Suresh De Costa of Lipman Family Farms advocated for an aggressive program design and encouraged the food industry to embrace the possibility of finding a positive. Processors and manufacturers should be conducting internal and external swab-a-thons (i.e., taking many samples from Zones 1, 2, 3, and 4) and constantly re-evaluating their programs based on data and process changes. Ultimately, improving an EMP requires a cultural change. Teams need to do the investigation work whenever positives are found.
Using Traceability to Improve Food Safety
Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response for the FDA, gave a regulatory update on Day 1 of the IAFP annual meeting. Traceability was at the core of his remarks on food safety initiatives. He described his vision for the future of the food supply chain: a global food system that is so transparent and data rich that we can trace food back to its origin in seconds, not days. Data will be at our fingertips and ensure a safe, sustainable food system. Better food safety begins and ends with better data.
Mr. Yiannas also spoke to the challenges of gathering and sharing high-quality data. A lack of interoperability (i.e., compatibility) between different tools and technology systems has been a major obstacle to sharing data across the supply chain. However, Mr. Yiannas stated that FSMA Rule 204 will drive interoperability by requiring companies to collect a set of Key Data Elements (KDEs) that correspond with their role in the supply chain as defined by Critical Tracking Events (CTEs).
Traceability and FSMA Rule 204 were top of mind for other speakers and panelists. Dr. Jennifer van de Ligt (ToxStrategies, Inc.) presented on traceability and blockchain. She discussed pros and cons of a blockchain approach and acknowledged that FSMA Rule 204 is technology agnostic, meaning it doesn’t require a particular technology to be used. Regardless of what platform is used, technology-based traceability will increase food safety, protect against food fraud, and improve food defense.
Roberta Wagner also brought up FSMA Rule 204 in a roundtable discussion on public-private data sharing. She stated that Rule 204 will be looking for end-to-end traceability. She also shared that Consumer Brands Association members have been talking about embracing consensus standards, from naming conventions to interoperable systems. Rule 204 seeks to create standards through Critical Tracking Events.
Summary of Key Takeaways
To recap, here are the key things you should know from IAFP 2022:
- Data sharing is critical to moving forward as an industry, but we need to protect whatever data is shared. This can be achieved by sharing aggregated data through a third-party, such as an industry association.
- We should take a proactive approach to environmental monitoring and aggressively test to identify the root cause of contamination, as well as prevent further contamination.
- Traceability will enable better food safety, and FSMA Rule 204 is a major step towards end-to-end traceability throughout the supply chain.
- Interoperability and data standards are necessary for traceability. While Rule 204 seeks to create standards (Key Data Elements and Critical Tracking Events), industry needs to play a role in enabling consensus standards and interoperability.
We are grateful to IAFP for the opportunity to network with the industry and hear new perspectives on food safety risks and best practices.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your food safety program and proactively manage risks, reach out to iFoodDS for a free consultation.