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Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Is Part
Of The Food Safety Solution

In response to our call for ideas to help improve food safety, which we published in Draft GAP Plan Shows Great Improvement…And Need For More Input, we’ve been in touch with several food safety experts who are working to prepare their suggestions on the draft GAP documents. We’ve also gotten some thoughts from people in the industry, including this one:

Good coverage and commentary on Food Safety issues and events. I’d like to share a thought related to these subjects: The European Community has regulations requiring that food can be traced “one step up and one step down” (European Parliament Regulation no.178/2002). They also require manufacturers of packaging that comes in contact with food to be traceable through the supply chain (back to the circumstances of its manufacture, including source of raw material).

I just got off the phone with a friend in Brazil that exports fruit to Europe — he can track a box of mangoes from a store in the UK back to the place (to the row) and time when the fruit was harvested. Why are we agonizing over traceability when we have successful models we can copy? The technology and systems are readily accessible.

— Scott Cernosek
Primary Package, Inc.

Scott has more than an academic interest in this matter. Primary Package devotes a page on its web site to issues of “track and trace.” As it explains:

Punnets manufactured by Infia srl are available with an optional Track and Trace feature that will allow you to track your products throughout the supply chain, from field to fork. The system has been in commercial use for three years and is widely used in Europe.

How does it work?

Each punnet has a unique identification code printed on it. When the punnets are packed in a carton, the carton is also labeled and coded. The first receiver (packer) of the punnets records the distribution of the cartons using Infia’s proprietary scanning software (provided free of charge to our customers). The result is a complete system for recording and checking product throughout the supply chain.

The optional Track and Trace system is inexpensive and is a proven method to improve your quality control. It is a reliable way to protect you and your customers from failure in the supply chain.

This seems one way to do this for some products but anything requiring proprietary software assumes a highly aligned supply chain in which people know what technology their suppliers and customers require. The way the industry is currently organized, we need universal standards so that everything can be automatically scanned by everyone and added to a product’s travel record. This is where we start talking about GTIN, RSS and RFID, all of which the Produce Marketing Association has been focusing on.

One thing Scott is absolutely correct about is that in many cases we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The mechanisms are already developed in other countries. In a subsequent E-mail exchange, Scott relayed the following anecdote:

This morning I was talking with friends (importers and distributors of “ethnic” produce) in the Netherlands and I asked them what would happen to them if they didn’t fulfill the requirements of the traceability law. The reply was to the effect “gee… I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter because the supermarkets wouldn’t take the product if we didn’t have traceability. We would be out of business.”

Signatories to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, take note. It is the “out of business” part that really makes these things happen.

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