Frank Yiannas, the vice president of food safety for Walmart and an outspoken proponent of blockchain, is leaving retail to take a post at the Food and Drug Administration.

Yiannas will succeed Stephen Ostroff, the deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, according to a letter from commissioner Scott Gottlieb to FDA staff.

Ostroff, who has twice served as acting commissioner of the FDA, plans to retire in January. He was instrumental in recruiting Yiannas to the agency, per the letter.

The title for Yiannas will be slightly different from his predecessor — deputy commissioner for food policy and response. In that role, he will lead the continuing implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and serving as a senior scientific advisor to Gottlieb on numerous food safety and supply chain issues.

“Additionally, he’ll help lead and coordinate certain cross-cutting policy activities and associated external engagement activities related to food safety and animal health,” Gottlieb said in the letter. “We’ll also leverage his experience and leadership across the agency, and all product areas, on the issues of supply chain security and the use of new tracking technology, recall effectiveness and traceback investigation processes.”

In recent years, Yiannas has constantly advocated for better traceability across the supply chain. During his tenure, Walmart executed a blockchain pilot with fresh mangoes that the company said significantly reduced the time required for traceback.

On the heels of two recent E. coli outbreaks attributed to leafy greens, Walmart announced that it plans to require suppliers of those products to be on blockchain by late 2019.

Before Yiannas was vice president of food safety for Walmart, he spent nearly two decades as the director of safety and health for the Walt Disney Co.

Yiannas has also served as the president of the International Association for Food Protection, is an adjunct professor in the Michigan State University food safety program, and has written scholarly papers on food safety and books on food safety culture, per the letter.

“Mr. Yiannas is a globally renowned food safety and supply chain expert and thought leader,” Gottlieb said in the letter to FDA staff. “Throughout his private sector career ... he’s been a food safety champion and instrumental in forging public-private collaborations to advance public health.

“He’s been recognized for his role in elevating food safety standards and building effective food safety management systems based on modern science and risk-based prevention principles,” Gottlieb said. “Mr. Yiannas is a globally acknowledged pioneer in using blockchain technology to strengthen food traceability capabilities and enable greater food system transparency.”


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