ANAHEIM, Calif. — Electronic traceability standards developed by the Produce Traceability Initiative could soon be required for all perishables products, noted a group of panelists here at the Produce Marketing Association's annual Fresh Summit convention.
Federal law already requires all U.S. food facilities to maintain “one up, one down” supply chain records, so that they can tell the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which companies they received food from and which companies they shipped it to in the event of a recall. However, a report issued in March by the Inspector General's office of the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that almost 60% of 118 food facilities surveyed failed to meet those requirements.
Suppliers cannot take this situation lightly, noted Gary Fleming, vice president of industry technology and standards for PMA.
“The FDA doesn't have the resources to go and check and make sure everyone is doing this. But, if you're involved in a recall, and they find you're not [in compliance] you'll start to see the fines go up and up,” Fleming said, noting that the FDA can assess fines as high as $70,000 per individual or $500,000 per company.
Fleming was joined on the panel by Mike O'Brien, vice president of produce and floral for Schnuck Markets, and Tom Casas, vice president of IT and mechanization for Tanimura and Antle. Panelists were introduced by Jim Corby, vice president of produce merchandising for Food Lion.
Fleming added that most of the proposed legislation currently under debate in Washington will require electronic traceability. And, many experts believe that these new traceability requirements will be similar to those defined by PTI, which PMA, the United Fresh Produce Association, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, and dozens of retailer, foodservice and supplier companies have been developing for more than two years.
Many retailers are already starting to view PTI as a traceability standard that will eventually be applied to all perishable products.
“I've had to sell this to our ownership, and they're very supportive, because this is not just a produce project — it's a perishables project,” said O'Brien. “For us retailers, this isn't going to end with produce, this will also be moving into our deli, seafood and meat operations. We're building a template that will be used in all of these different areas.”
PTI was launched in the months after a nationwide E. coli outbreak, linked to spinach, devastated the U.S. leafy greens industry in the fall of 2006. The goal of the program is to have a standardized electronic traceability program in place for the entire produce supply chain by 2012.
Although he acknowledged that the development, testing and rollout of the program is an expensive undertaking for all parties involved, O'Brien noted that enhanced traceability will help address widespread problems with consumer confidence.