Ten years ago, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) revolutionized the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the food industry approach food safety. The law’s goal was to bring food safety into the modern age, using all of the technology and digital tools available to create a safer food supply. The result has been an approach that aims to be proactive, preventing recalls, rather than reacting to contamination and mislabeling.

“The preventative controls for human food were key,” said Rasma Zvaners, vice president, regulatory and technical services, American Bakers Association. “Early on, the challenge with FSMA is the baking industry had the HACCP practices in place, but the industry had to transition what we were doing into a food safety plan in a binder. The industry took what it was doing well and documented it.”

In 2022, the final rule of the law will fall into place and digitize traceability, making food safety problems that crop up easier to trace. Over the next 10 years, FDA will build on the foundation of FSMA to usher in the New Era of Food Safety. This means more digital tools, more data, more best practices and more communication. 

FSMA’s impact on the baking industry’s food safety evolution cannot be understated.

“It’s been a very dramatic change,” said Joe Stout, founder and general manager, Commercial Food Sanitation. “Back in the 1980s, there was a heavy focus on foreign material such as metal and infestation. Formerly micro risk in bakeries was believed to be non-existent due to the ‘equalizer’ the  oven provided as a kill step. Today we’ve shifted focus to hygienic zoning to maintain a sanitary environment to minimize microbial and spoilage risks due to cross contamination.”

The baking industry’s focus on allergen control has also come a long way. Rapid allergen test kit technology can provide bakers with immediate feedback on the cleanliness of their lines. As the industry learns more about the risks of allergens, the cleaning protocols improve.

And ongoing pandemic experience was invaluable as the food industry had to adapt again to the risk the coronavirus (COVID-19) posed.

“COVID was an enhancement for many of our GMP practices,” Mr. Stout said. “We’re in the food business, and we were one step ahead of non-food companies that make widgets or cars or basketballs because we had GMPs in place. We knew about micro risk, allergens and washing hands. However, I think the industry actually enhanced our sensitivity from COVID learnings to help fine tune separation and improve controls to prevent cross-contamination beyond the COVID-19 virus.”

Even though AIB International offers free kill step validation calculators for several baked foods, bakers should not let their guard down regarding pathogens. The latest recalls from Hostess Brands, Kansas City, Mo., and Mondelez International, Chicago, have shown us that, though no reports of illness have been linked to those recalls. And we should note that both were detected through environmental monitoring.

New data and technology are providing bakers the tools to understand and take control of their food safety programs. And the latest recalls show that getting on board with the science and technology available can keep us all safer.