Building Safe Food Systems Starts with Partnerships
You may have seen the meme, “If food isn’t safe, it isn’t food.” The need to focus on safe food continues — and building safe food systems is foundational to all healthy societies.
Many global efforts aim at food safety capacity building. But just doing training is not enough. We also need the next phase of measuring the impact of these efforts. The time is now to develop a public-private partnership (PPP) to share outcome data on international food safety training, implementation and impact. Only through shared data can we guarantee continuous improvement in food safety that will benefit entire sectors, countries, regions and millions of consumers.
On June 15, 2021, University of Maryland’s Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (UMD-JIFSAN), Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS) and Structured Partnerships hosted a listening session on establishing a new PPP on data sharing to improve food safety capacity building. Building Safe Food Systems Starts with Partnerships provides a summary of this listening session with a focus on steps moving forward.
We have crafted a white paper, engaged various stakeholders and held the June 15 listening session to advance this effort. Now we want you to join us!
This is an optimal time for potential partners and funders to put their energy behind this emerging PPP’s momentum, to collaboratively measure the impact of food safety capacity building efforts and focus. Open data is now the default in conducting government research. Open, commonly shared data, along with collaboration focused on measuring the impact of food safety capacity building, is crucial to bringing safe food to all.
Now is the time to get in on the ground floor of this PPP as we form subgroups with specialists from the public and private sectors to address core data needs, communications, information technology and any legal hurdles.
Sharing data is essential for training, environmental monitoring, managing false positives, compliance and best practices. It is an approach the National Academy of Medicine recommended globally in 2020 to food regulatory agencies.
During our June 15 listening session for the proposed PPP, former United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary, Catherine Wotecki, highlighted the importance of the four “FAIR” principles for data sharing: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. This can be achieved through partnerships across sectors.
Likewise, Joseph Scimeca of the International Dairy Foods Association underscored his view that without safe food, we cannot have food security. Although Scimeca noted that sharing data may have been hampered by trust and confidentiality concerns in the past, he and others described their experiences in overcoming such concerns with the USDA Public-Private Partnership Branded Foods Database. (IAFNS and JIFSAN are both involved in the USDA Public-Private Partnership Branded Foods Database.)
Marlynne Hopper of the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) described her organization’s work with black pepper and other spices throughout the value chain. She recommended using a risk-based framework based on Codex Alimentarius guidance. STDF works with small- and medium-sized organizations to improve food safety in domestic, regional and global markets, and has seen how data sharing can deliver for domestic and global partners.
Kelley Cormier of USAID emphasized that more than $100 billion in productivity is lost every year, worldwide, due to foodborne illness, while also underscoring that merely the number of counting people trained is not enough to measure food safety impact. Cormier urged employment of risk-based systems and prioritizing the development of new metrics. To deploy risk-based systems, data needs to be shared across sectors in the food and beverage ecosystem. This data sharing can occur only when a high degree of trust among partners and a formalized process to support the sharing exist.
On the regulatory side, Mark Moorman, director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Food Safety, shared that in addition to promulgating traceability regulations, authorities strive to reduce rates of food contamination through partnerships and other strategies. The “game changer” with food safety has been creating a culture of sharing — mistakes and near-misses — to improve safety for all. As Moorman highlighted, if tens of thousands of facilities would begin sharing their data, it could “raise all boats” to benefit all.
During the listening session, the conversation focused on how sharing data with some constraints on access and other protections could expand trust for partners. Other views expressed included:
- The fact that Canada is aggressively testing food imports from the Salinas Valley in California says something about North American relations on this issue currently.
- Food safety is not “optional” nor a “competition,” and all partners need to be beneficiaries if the partnership is to be healthy and effective.
- Risk-based training in food safety and the need to measure efficacy and impact is required under the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act.
- Countries are increasingly linking health care costs to the food safety agenda, and global funders like the World Bank are adjusting financing for governments based on how crucial food safety programs are to health.
- Exploring how partnerships reinforce public and private sector efforts toward a common goal is crucial.
- Creating a standard for food safety culture within an organization can be one of many metrics for revealing root causes and learnings.
All of these points support the formation of a new data sharing pact. Join us as we form this robust partnership! The benefits of expanding food safety capacity building will extend not just to your organization but to multiple partners across the international value chain, including producers, processors, shippers and millions of consumers. To learn more about participating in one of our working groups as we build out the partnership this fall, please contact us and register through the IAFNS website.
Wendelyn Jones, Ph.D., is executive director of IAFNS. Jones has a strong background in the food, agriculture and chemical industries, with more than 20 years of global experience in industry and government. She applies her Ph.D. in life sciences to extend IAFNS’ contribution to, and impact within, diverse scientific and health communities.
Clare Narrod, Ph.D., is the director of the JIFSAN Risk Analysis Training and Monitoring and Evaluation Programs.
Andrea E. Stumpf, J.D., is a lawyer, practitioner and author with more than 30 years of experience in the public and private international sectors. She specializes in the structure, design and sustainability of international partnerships and has written two how-to guides.