On August 15, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the third phase of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Imported Seafood Pilot program. The pilot utilizes AI and machine learning (ML) to strengthen the screening process for foods that enter the U.S. It focuses on seafood because more than 90% of seafood in the U.S. is supplied from other countries.
The first phase of the pilot launched in 2019 and sought to demonstrate the potential for AI to ensure the security and safety of imported seafood. It was an analytical proof of concept to examine the use of ML, a type of AI that makes it possible to identify connections and patterns that people or even the FDA’s screening system cannot see. The second phase took place from February 2021 through July 2021 and was conducted in the field at all U.S. ports of entry. It integrated ML into existing import data systems to inform decisions about sampling by entry reviewers while gaining more experience in ML model training. As a result, the model could analyze an import entry and was able to return a sample recommendation within seconds.
According to the FDA, “The third phase is designed to improve the agency’s ability to quickly identify imported seafood products that may be contaminated by illness-causing pathogens, decomposition, the presence of unapproved antibiotic residues, or other hazards.” This phase intends to determine the feasibility of deploying in-house AI/ML models using the insights the agency extracts from the millions of import entries reviewed annually. The FDA will implement enhancements to how ML algorithms can complement field operations and improve the agency’s ability to identify hazardous products.
The pilot program is implemented under the New era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, which was developed to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses. The goal is a safer, more digital, traceable food system, and the program focuses on four core elements:
- Tech-enabled Traceability
- Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
- New Business Models and Retail Modernization
- Food Safety Culture
The third phase of the pilot is expected to be completed in the late fiscal year of 2023. The intelligence gained from the program will allow the FDA to expand the use of ML and screen additional FDA-controlled products in an effort to identify potential risks and ultimately protect consumers from unsafe foods.