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Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Initiative
Requires Broader Base Of Participants

Our piece, Traceability Initiative Lacks Full Industry Representation, pointed out that the steering committee of the CPMA/PMA/United Fresh joint effort on traceability was lacking players from important segments of the industry.

We reminded readers of a letter we received from Alan Siger of Consumers Produce pointing out that, by law, commission merchants were obligated to maintain traceability in order to fulfill the requirement that each grower receives the proper account sales. As such, traceability was important long before food safety and food security started driving these issues.

This letter from Alan’s fellow Pennsylvanian confirmed that wholesale/distributors have something to contribute to this discussion:

I would certainly agree with Alan Siger that independent wholesale/distributors have capabilities that enable them to be part of the solution. From my recent experience in serving on the Produce Electronic Identification Board as the wholesaler/distributor representative, I have seen the value of broad supply-chain participation in developing and implementing industry standards.

As an organization, we have gained many ideas by tapping a wide range of available sources. We have learned many of our ‘best practices’ through contacts across — and beyond — the produce industry. A wide-ranging search for a warehouse management system five years ago led us to implement a ‘best in class’ solution never before used in our industry.

In regards to the current food safety and traceability discussion — this system provides us the capability to require voice verification with each pick. This links a product’s source and destination within our facility for more timely, precise, and reliable trace back information. This system has also allowed us to achieve much higher selection accuracy and productivity. Other produce distributors have since implemented the system. The best ideas in a company (or an industry) come from a variety of directions, and are therefore created when drawing from a broad base.

In short, participation by the entire supply chain will lead to the most effective end-to-end standards on this important matter of food safety.

— Nelson Longenecker
Vice President — Business Innovation
Four Seasons Produce, Inc.
Ephrata, Pa

One reason Cathy Green, Chief Operating Officer for Food Lion, was a good choice to chair the committee is because she is not personally part of the produce industry and thus more likely to be accepted as a kind of neutral arbiter when things get tense. Also as an operations person in a major supermarket chains, Cathy has exposure to what other parts of the food chain are doing on traceability.

Without a doubt, though, the initial list of committee members reveals some gaps. Fortunately, there is adequate time to fill them. We can and we should.

Many thanks to Nelson for reminding us that ‘best practices’ don’t have to mean within the limited experience of companies exactly like our own. Stretching to acquire knowledge, to learn what others are doing, to adapt practices and procedures to new environments… these are all pathways to success.

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