The Likely Food Safety Issues of 2024

Jan. 25, 2024
Among heavy metals, other chemicals and inspecting foreign suppliers, the 'new' FDA will have its hands full this year.

Last month, Dr. David Acheson reviewed the top food safety issues of the past year; here he previews issues that are likely to come up in 2024.

As we looked back at 2023, in some ways there were seminal changes around leadership at FDA and approaches and where the agency was going, plus a few little regulatory tweaks but nothing huge.

As we look into 2024, I see continued focus on chemical residues, and within that bucket I'm including heavy metals. In 2023 there were some significant events coming out of California around specific chemical residues and heavy metals, and as we ended 2023 we were dealing with a lead issue [in children’s applesauce pouches].

Jim Jones, our new FDA Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods, worked previously at the Environmental Protection Agency, and chemical residues are an area that he is particularly caring about. So given his background and given what we saw in 2023 with lead and other chemical residue issues, I think we will see a push to control chemical risks in 2024.

That's easy to say but what does that mean and what does that look like? There have been for years control programs for added chemicals such as pesticides. There is already a fair bit of testing going on, but I think we will see more testing for pesticides if resources allow.

I think we will see a push for stronger enforcement around heavy metals. It's extremely difficult for some companies to manage heavy metals because most of them are not introduced as part of processing, they're introduced in the earth where the original product grows. I'm talking about lead, cadmium and arsenic. Mercury is mostly a seafood issue. Those are the four the agency focuses on.

Let’s not lose sight that 2024 is an election year, and Congress is going to get on the bandwagon and demand stronger regulations around heavy metals. I wouldn't be shocked if that happens because somebody will see it as a politically expedient thing to focus on, plus you're protecting public health and kids.

Even if any new regulatory requirements don’t take effect in 2024, my advice to food companies is make sure you know what your risk is around heavy metals, particularly if any of your products are directed toward babies, infants or children. Take a good look at your products and your supply chain, know what your heavy metal exposure is and think how you could control this.

I think 2024 will be an interesting year around traceability, Section 204, referencing the statutory section for traceability in the Food Safety Modernization Act. The deadline is not till 2026, but people are finally waking up and realizing they have to do something about traceability. I would hope that 2024 will be the year they figure out what they need to do and build off that and end the year with a road map to enact it in 2025. Plan it now and pressure test it in 2025 so you will be ready for prime time in 2026 when this goes live. It's more complex than you think.

The Foreign Supplier Verification Program enforcement was hot in 2023, and I think it'll be hot in 2024 because FDA is getting traction out of what they're finding. If you're an importer, make sure you have an FSVP because if you don't you’ll get an instant 483 [letter of possible violations] from FDA or worse a warning letter.

There is always the unknown and the unpredictable. The world is a tumultuous place. We have conflict in the Middle East, we still have challenges in foods coming from Ukraine, pirates in the Red Sea, and who knows where we will see a massive shortage from somewhere else in the supply chain.

What we eat every day is sourced from all over the world, and if those things start to get difficult to obtain or if transportation costs rise, then it's going to put a lot of pressure on companies. So be prepared. Look at doubling up on your suppliers, find a second supplier that's from a different geography, that will help you weather an unpredictable situation.

 

Dr. David Acheson, a former FDA associate commissioner for foods, is founder and CEO of The Acheson Group (achesongroup.com), a consulting firm with a focus on food safety and risk management. 

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