With the Presidential election behind us, the new Biden Administration continues to fill key food safety and policy positions within USDA and FDA. To date, however, we have not yet witnessed the rollout of any significant new food safety or regulatory policy announcements. Will they be coming? If so, what will they look like? Time will tell. But, in the short term, everything will come down to timing. 

Indeed, we likely haven’t heard yet about any new earth-moving policy changes because the new administration is still settling in, and implementation of any such policies will take time. We also know that USDA and FDA, by most accounts, remain significantly understaffed (especially with COVID constraints), and it will take time to fully staff the agencies. Until the pandemic is fully under control and existing staffing issues are resolved, we are not likely to see significant policy announcements related to food safety. With that said, however, a recent hire may shed light on where things are heading. 

On March 16, USDA announced a bevy of new hires at the agency. Most prominently, Sandra Eskin was named deputy undersecretary for food safety. Previously, Eskin worked for The Pew Charitable Trusts and as a public policy consultant on behalf of consumer and public interest organizations where, according to an agency press release, she provided “strategic and policy advice on a range of consumer protection issues, including food safety, dietary supplement safety, and food and drug labeling and advertising.” 

Given her depth of experience on matters pertaining to food safety, it appears likely we will see significant policy changes geared toward enhancing food safety. Interestingly, Eskin, in a July 2020 article written for Pew, advocated for a process by which food industry groups and regulators could collaborate in creating a “confidential, nonpunitive reporting system that encourages businesses to share what they have learned from internal investigations of food safety problems.” Incentivizing the sharing of information in a collaborative rather than adversarial manner, could potentially help ensure that the lessons learned by one company can accrue to the benefit of all. With that said, it remains to be seen whether such a vision could truly be implemented successfully in a nonpunitive manner.

As new positions continue to fill, and the policy goals of the new administration take shape, it will be interesting to see how far food safety policies and regulations will begin to shift. We know it’s coming; the questions which remain are how expansive and how fast. NP