A Closer Look at 2019’s Food Safety and Regulation Issues

David Acheson, former FDA associate commissioner for foods, says the issues of 2018 will carry into the new year.

By David Acheson of the Acheson Group

Expecting 2019 to be another interesting, stimulating year for the food industry, we have compiled our predictions into five topic areas. This month we deal with food safety regulation and food trends; next month we look into traceability, food safety issues and interventions and cannabis.

Food Safety Regulation

With small businesses having to be in compliance with the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) by Jan. 28 and very small businesses by Jan. 27, 2020, more farmers will be falling under the requirements of the rule. But with the currently proposed agricultural water compliance dates not beginning until Jan. 26, 2022 for the largest farms (and into 2024 for the smallest ones), if irrigation-related outbreaks continue after inspections begin, there will be continued criticism of the regulatory agencies and the effectiveness of produce inspections overall.

It would be encouraging to see FDA reopen the dialogue on the portion of the proposed rule that would extend the agricultural water compliance dates. Otherwise, it would be reasonable to see a repeat of new and large widespread recalls involving leafy greens and other produce if testing of the agricultural water source is pushed so far out.

In Canada, 2019 will be the first year of implementation of the new Safe Foods for Canadians Regulations, so the Canadian food industry – and companies in the U.S. that export to Canada – will see massive change.

Food Trends

Consumer trends are driving changes in the food industry as millennials demand safe, healthy food choices that are “clean” with regard to preservatives, and we expect to continue to see this evolve in 2019. From the perspective of what is good for the body is good for the planet, millennials expect companies to make a difference, not just to make products and money, thus there is an increased demand for “healthier,” “cleaner” foods (real, minimally processed, organic, closer to “natural”).

We also expect a continuation of the increased vigilance among consumers to use diet and nutrition facts to evaluate food safety, especially in regard to the new nutrition facts panel and added sugars. Consumer vigilance will likely lead to increased litigation around claims such as “natural” and “healthy,” while manufacturers are asserting their rights in battles against California’s Proposition 65 listings (e.g., glyphosate).

The U.S. has also been seeing a significant change in dining trends with the increases in home delivery of restaurant meals, fast foods and meal kits. The new year will likely ring in numerous implications and ramifications on packaging, delivery services, temperature sensors, etc., for the entire food industry.

As announced in mid-November, USDA and FDA will be jointly overseeing the production of “clean meat.” That is, cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry – it’s an exciting and much-anticipated “Regulatory Path Forward.”

Going the other direction, plant-based alternatives – including meats, milk, and seafood – are becoming a booming business. Retail sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 17% in the past year to over $3.7 billion. As more households across the country purchase plant-based options, the market for these products will rapidly expand well beyond vegetarian and vegan consumers.

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