We’re in the “crystal-ball” season—time to look forward and assess what’s coming in 2010 and beyond. The most likely scenario: more of the same and landmark change.

More of the Same

The last few years have seen growth in both the number of food-borne illnesses detected and the variety of foods affected. This is because more resources are being put into detection (though the CDC recently reported an overall decline in epidemiological capacity by the states) and technology is continuing to advance (think Next Generation Sequencing). There’s little reason to believe these trends will abate in 2010. Expect more outbreaks. Expect to hear about recalls of products not previously implicated in food-borne illness.

Landmark Change

Nobody doubts that we’re in the midst of the most significant legislative and regulatory changes in food safety in generations. Most believe that Congress will pass some form of food safety legislation (e.g., S 510 or HR 2749) in the new year. It will likely include the most comprehensive food safety reform in decades. Among other things, this legislation is likely to give FDA mandatory recall power and great authority for risk-based inspections, and require FDA to create a traceability program.

FDA and USDA are already pushing the boundaries of their current authority to become more aggressive on food safety and labeling enforcement. Examples include USDA moving toward classification of Salmonella as an adulterant, more aggressive rules on ground beef safety, and increased retail enforcement. FDA is already studying how traceability could work, being more aggressive in identifying products and retailers in the event of recalls, reexamining the effectiveness of current nutritional labeling requirements, and investigating whether front of pack nutrition labeling (FOP) practices need to be regulated.

And on the heels of legislative reform and increased regulatory enforcement come the lawyers. Action by the government creates new avenues for the plaintiffs’ bar. Food litigation will likely increase in prevalence both in product liability claims (i.e., food contamination) and in putative consumer fraud class claims into 2010 and beyond.