FDA to deploy AI to aid food regulation

Agency says it will also evaluate blockchain and IoT technologies for creating a safer food system.
By Nathan Eddy
10:21 AM
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Photo: US FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to leverage the use of new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence to create a more digital, traceable and safer regulatory system.

WHY IT MATTERS

A pilot program will leverage AI and machine learning to explore new ways to enhance the agency’s review of imported foods at ports of entry to ensure they meet U.S. food safety standards.

The work is aligned with other track and trace efforts at the agency, such as the FDA’s pilot programs focused on tracking the movement of medicines throughout the supply chain.

ON THE RECORD

“We expect to see more innovation in the agriculture, food production, and food distribution systems in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the past 20,” acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement.

The plans will address several areas, including traceability, digital technologies and evolving food business models.

The FDA noted evolving digital technologies could play a pivotal role in tracing the origin of a contaminated food to its source in minutes, or even seconds, instead of days or weeks.

Faster access to information during an outbreak about the origin of contaminated food could help the FDA conduct more timely root cause analysis and apply these lessons to prevent future incidents from happening in the first place.

“When you look at how other industries digitally track the movement of planes, ride sharing and delivery of packaged goods, it becomes clear that we must explore how these types of technologies could improve tracking when it comes to food,” deputy commissioner Frank Yiannas said in a statement.  

TECH FOR FOOD SAFETY

The FDA has been deploying new technology to advance food safety, like analytical tools and a network of laboratories that can sequence the genomes of foodborne pathogens and then upload the genomic sequence and the geographic location from which the pathogen was gathered into a publicly accessible database.

Known as the GenomeTrakr Network, this new tool is a paradigm-changing development to facilitate foodborne outbreak investigations.

The AI announcement comes as the FDA moves toward approving medical equipment like an AI-based wearable device for at-home vital sign tracking (previously cleared only for use in hospitals), and Biofourmis' RhythmAnalytics platform, an AI-based automated interpretation of cardiac arrhythmias.

BLOCKCHAIN AND IOT

The FDA will also be holding a public meeting later this year to discuss smarter food safety, seek stakeholder input and share ideas on overall strategy and specific initiatives. 

Other technologies the FDA plans to explore moving forward include blockchain distributed ledgers, sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), and the plans noted the e-commerce food delivery system presents food safety challenges and considerations around regulatory framework and oversight at all levels of government.

“Our Blueprint will discuss areas for collaboration in this space as we work to identify the appropriate standard of care in this rapidly growing sector,” Yiannas continued.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.

Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com

Twitter: @dropdeaded209 

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