A Look Back at Food Safety in 2021

Jan. 12, 2022
Labor, supply chain and Covid issues impacted safety in the past year, but there were no milestone new regulations from FDA or USDA.

The Acheson Group (TAG), founded by Dr. David Acheson, FDA's former associate commissioner for foods, annually looks at the top food safety and regulatory issues of the past year, in part based on the most-read TAG Insights articles. The following are their insights about 2021. 

There is no doubt 2021 was another challenging year, particularly with the continuing impacts of COVID-19. One of the most critical issues was that of labor shortages and the difficulty in finding employees.

Throughout the supply chain – growing, manufacturing, retail and restaurant – many businesses were utilizing temporary employees. In fact, these employees made up as much as 30-40% of the workforce for many, which led to much of the challenge. Adding to that were the supply chain shortages, many of which also were caused by lack of labor and the need to find new suppliers.

It seemed that the food and beverage industry had every curveball thrown at it in 2021, but those challenges did not slow down the regulatory oversight, scrutiny or writing of new regulations by either the FDA or USDA/FSIS. There was, however, a silver lining, as no massive new rules or regulations were passed for which the industry needed to immediately comply in 2021.

It likely comes as no surprise that the most-read TAG Insights articles of 2021 were those related to standards and regulations, with the increased focus on allergen labeling of sesame coming in at No. 1. The two articles on FDA’s emphasis on heavy metals in general and in baby food in particular also ranked high for readership.

In our review of the Insights newsletters, we found that TAG’s analysis of the above topics and other key aspects of standards and regulations were sure to push articles and videos to the top of the most-read list – with those on TAG’s assessment of FDA’s actions being of particular interest.

These included the analysis of the agency’s intended guidance list as foretelling what we expect to be the agency’s upcoming focus; what its stance on E. coli in leafy greens as a “reasonably foreseeable hazard” really means to the industry; and why you need a Food Defense Plan. Additionally, the two Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) articles – top inspection observations and tips for avoiding FSVP 483s – showed FSVP to be a key action item for both FDA and food facilities.

But it wasn’t all about U.S. regulations and standards, as the Safe Food for Canadians Regulation video and the Codex’s global focus on food safety culture articles were both of significant interest. With food safety culture continually gaining attention globally and domestically from regulators and businesses, TAG’s Food Safety Culture video has been the most watched since being posted in May.

The other key area of interest was that of food contamination/prevention, including a new Listeria species reinforcing the need for environmental controls, gloves as a recall prevention strategy, and the above-referenced E. coli in leafy greens and heavy metals in baby food articles.

The ongoing need for environmental controls may also have led to the popularity of two TAG videos: A Q&A on Environmental Control Programs & Environmental Monitoring Programs and Food Safety Education for Workers, which included discussion of needs for the diverse workforces of the food industry. 

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