FDA launches challenge for development of affordable traceability tools for food safety

June 2, 2021

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the launch of a challenge to spur the development of affordable, tech-enabled traceability tools to help protect people and animals from contaminated foods by enabling the rapid identification of their sources and helping remove them from the marketplace as quickly as possible.

The FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Low- or No-Cost Tech-Enabled Traceability Challenge advances a goal set forth in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, released in July 2020, to encourage the development of creative financial models for low- to no-cost traceability solutions that would enable food producers of all sizes to participate in a scalable, cost-effective way. Tech-enabled traceability is one of the foundational core elements of the New Era initiative. However, affordability can be a barrier to the adoption of tech-enabled traceability systems, especially for smaller companies.

“Too many Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses every year. Making the food supply more digitally enabled and food more traceable will speed the response to outbreaks and deepen our understanding of what causes them and how to prevent them from happening again,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “One of the FDA’s highest priorities is protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses. We hope to find new, innovative ways to encourage firms of all sizes to voluntarily adopt tracing technologies that can help our nation modernize the way we work together to determine possible sources of foodborne illnesses as quickly as possible to keep Americans safe.”

Through this challenge, the agency is asking food technology solution providers, public health advocates, entrepreneurs and innovators across the human and animal food supply chain to present food traceability solutions that utilize economic models that are affordable, with costs that are proportional to the benefits received and can scale to encourage widespread adoption.  

“Having digital information easily accessible is a key priority of the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety. Through this initiative, we are committed to helping ensure that even small companies can use and benefit from new tracing technologies,” said Frank Yiannas, deputy FDA commissioner for food policy and response. “Digitizing data at no- or low-cost through the use of creative financial models allows the entire food system to get smarter together.”

The challenge invites submissions for tech-enabled solutions that address the traceability needs and challenges unique to one or more segments of the human and animal food supply chain: 

·        primary producers (such as entities involved in farming and fishing);

·         importers;

·         manufacturers/processors;

·         distributors (such as wholesalers, distribution centers and repackers);

·         retailers and foodservice (such as retail food establishments and restaurants).

To provide maximum flexibility, participants may offer solutions that are based on new or innovative models that are affordable for smaller enterprises. However, the solutions can also be based on existing or new scalable and cost-effective hardware, software or data analytics platforms.

The FDA will accept submissions from June 1 through July 30 and intends to announce up to 12 winners at the end of the challenge. A panel of judges from the federal government with experience in the fields of technology, public health or the food industry will select the winners based on how well solutions meet specific traceability challenges and demonstrate innovation, usability, affordability, scalability and interoperability.

No cash prizes will be awarded, but the winners will have the opportunity to present their work publicly in a webinar planned for September and their videos will be posted for public viewing. The challenge is being overseen by the FDA’s Office of Food Policy and Response and administered by PrecisionFDA as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. For more information on how to join the challenge, visit the registration page.

FDA has the challenge.

FDA has the release.