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Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability

We have been running a great deal on the issue of traceback including recent Guest Pundits here and here by Gary Fleming, Vice President, Industry Technology and Standards, Produce Marketing Association.

One of the problems with the draft Good Agricultural Practices document for spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens is that, although it requires people to retain a lot of documents, it doesn’t specify their retention in a form suitable for quick traceback.

Obviously one of our missions is to avoid future outbreaks. But a second, very important mission is to make sure that if we have another outbreak, we can minimize recalls and injuries to consumers. The way to do that is with automated systems available 24/7/365.

You can’t have a delay because a farmer is asleep or on vacation.

Usually we hesitate to run letters that promote one particular product, but this gentleman claims to have a solution. Certainly it is worth exploring:

Here at most of your wishes and comments are running on the servers where the ScoringAg traceback database is held. You and others are right about the problems of produce movement and who has done what at what time where.

Yes, most buyers and brokers refuse to keep uniform records unless they are forced to as per Tim York’s desire. It is all a secret and it is not the grower’s, packer’s, shipper’s, broker’s or buyer’s problem if the consumers get sick (some have this thinking).

To have an outbreak, something has to happen at a location — at a field or on a reefer that was used to transport a food product to the next food handler and processor on its way to the consumer. This is where the ScoringAg’s technology called Site-Specific Recordkeeping™ takes over with our PIDC code at every food handler’s location.

So if Wal-Mart wants to move food around at the expense of other resellers, then the food records need to be uniform no matter what country or farm group. Yes, recalls need to be more specific as the industry doesn’t need whole sectors of a product removed.

What the industry needs is our SSI-EID traceback code, costing $0.0025 per final retail package, which can provide a traceback within seconds or at the speed of Google — enabling every food handler to identify the chain of custody and source verification in real time with local records of production data.

The FDA has identified many possible factors that contribute to the contamination of fresh produce, but records and actions to know the chain of custody are slow (weeks) at best and not uniform. These factors include the exposure of produce to poor-quality water, manure used for fertilizer, workers with poor hygiene, buffer zones, and animals, both domesticated and wild, on the farm, or a problem of transporters, processor and handlers at their PIDC locations.

So the question is: Why does it take so long to do a traceback when FDA requires a full traceback in 24 hours 24/7 to the source? Why does it take so long to do a traceback when businesses were required to have this capability on specific dates as mandated by the FDA Bioterrorism law? Was it because all the companies thought they could build a computer traceback system with commingling algorithms like ScoringAg, or do they just not care?

Yes, we have marketed our software. It is simple and cheap, and it works.

— William Kanitz
ScoringSystem, Inc.

This type of program may be a solution, but its proprietary nature makes it seem unlikely that it would be the solution. This is one reason those companies with highly aligned supply chains, as we are exploring in our Foodservice Pundit series, first with Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, then with Michael Spinazzola of Diversified Restaurant Systems, followed by Maurice Totty of Foodbuy, have a simpler situation to confront.

If the industry is going to move in the direction of highly aligned supply chains, then, of course, every supply chain can implement the proprietary programs and procedures required.

If the goal, though, is to allow all trade buyers to purchase anywhere with safety and allow vendors to recall produce wherever it may be, then we need to go in the direction that Gary Fleming at PMA was suggesting in his articles: industry standard solutions, such as GTIN, RSS, RFID, etc.

Many thanks to William Kanitz for sharing his system with us.

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