U.S – Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner, Food Policy and Response, FDA has submitted his resignation from the agency citing his concern that the decentralized structure of the foods program significantly impaired the FDA’s ability to operate as an integrated food team and protect the public.
Yiannas took the mantle as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Response and Policy in December 2018.
He has since served as the FDA Commissioner’s main advisor in the formulation and implementation of food safety regulations, including the historic FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Food safety priorities like epidemic response, traceback inquiries, product recall operations, and supply chain innovation, have fallen under his purview.
“In December 2018, I joined the FDA with the goal of helping to modernize the food safety oversight system in the United States and protecting the American people from contaminated food.
“I wanted to build on my work of protecting consumers by elevating food safety standards and building more effective, modern, and innovative food safety approaches, something I did in the private sector for more than 30 years,” said Yiannas.
Yiannas, in his letter, addressed to FDA’s Commissioner Robert Califf, stated that he had first considered leaving the agency early last year, but was held back by the infant formula crisis experienced in the country.
“It was also in February of 2022 that I first learned of the infant formula incidents that had been reported to various parts of the FDA several months before, so I postponed this decision and dedicated myself and my staff to doing all we could to help tackle this crisis,” read the letter.
Through his team’s efforts, the Abbott facility was reopened, infant formula availability is more prevalent, and – very importantly – the necessary monitoring, data systems, and insights are now in place through the 21 Forward platform to help address the current and any future infant formula supply chain challenges.
As such, the Deputy Commissioner has deemed it fit to bow out but not before dropping some nuggets of wisdom for the present Commissioner.
According to Yiannas, the agency would operate more effectively and be better able to protect the American public from foodborne illness, with the creation of a more integrated operating structure and a fully empowered and experienced Deputy Commissioner for Foods, with direct oversight of those centers and offices responsible for human and animal foods.
“In this manner, she or he can more efficiently make the necessary changes that are needed to transform FDA’s Food Program for the 21st Century,” he said.
He also urged Califf to consider transferring the “small, yet exceptional” staff comprising the Office of Food Policy and Response (OFPR) to a new office of the Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
“In closing, while I’ll soon be departing the agency, rest assured that I’ll continue rooting for you. As for me, while I have no immediate plans or next steps to announce today, I’ll continue to seek ways to work together to create a safer, smarter, and more sustainable food system that will benefit consumers, food producers, and the planet for generations to come,” Yiannas said in his email to colleagues and friends.
A career well-lived
Under the leadership of Yiannas, the FDA was able to tackle two of the most critical, complicated, and outstanding FSMA rulemakings by issuing a Final Food Traceability Rule and a new, proposed Agricultural Water Standard.
“While the FSMA-projected reductions in foodborne illnesses have yet to be realized a decade later, these two rules, once fully implemented, will be game-changers in allowing those reductions to become a reality,” he said.
In 2020, together with a team of experts, he unveiled a new vision and blueprint for the next decade to modernize the way the FDA does its food safety work and to bend the curve of foodborne illness, under the auspices of a New Era of Smarter Food Safety.
“In two short years, we achieved an amazing amount of work. For example, we leveraged smarter tools for prevention used for the very first time in the FDA’s food program, such as employing Artificial Intelligence to strengthen our ability to detect and prevent violative shipments of imported seafood from reaching the U.S. consumer,” he noted.
The FDA also managed to expedite and facilitate the use of Tech-enabled Food Traceability to better track and trace foods and to create a more transparent food system.
In addition, the agency released a first-of-its-kind food supply chain analytical platform known as 21 Forward to identify food facilities at greatest risk of food supply chain disruptions and to provide focus on areas where they should fortify resilience.
“We also launched a pilot to evaluate if select third-party food safety standards aligned with FSMA and determine what role they might play in the nation’s food safety oversight system,” Yiannas revealed.
He also helped advance the concept of Food Safety Culture to achieve higher rates of compliance and to mobilize the industry to do the same.
Further, the Deputy Commissioner and his team strengthened FDA’s foodborne outbreak investigations and almost doubled the number of outbreak investigation reports the agency now publishes.