Up to $14m could be shaved off the cost of major outbreaks of illness caused by foodborne pathogens, according to a report just issued by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).
The document, which the IFT issued for the US Food and Drug Administration, was required by the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), which is shaking up the food industry in the US.
Based on eight case studies of previous outbreaks, improved traceability could cut the public health impact by up to 55% of total illnesses and reduce the economic impact by up to $14m per outbreak, the report states.
It focuses on the outcomes of two pilot projects designed to analyse product tracing practices, one for fresh produce, specifically tomatoes, and one for processed foods consisting of chicken, peanuts and/or spices.These foods were chosen because they were associated with outbreaks between 2005 and 2010.
Key findings from the IFT’s analysis of current product tracing practices indicate several challenges associated with investigating outbreaks of foodborne pathogen transmission.
The case studies turned up widespread use of paper trails, which proved tedious and difficult to sort out. Data definition was lacking, leading to confusion.
Items bore inconsistent descriptions and wrong or incomplete information caused delays and, in addition, some firms operated under multiple names, which made pinpointing sources tricky.
The FSMA limits the FDA to enacting additional record-keeping requirements to ‘high risk’ foods. However, the IFT points out that recent foodborne disease outbreaks shows just how quickly low risk foods could cross over into the high risk category.
As a result, its report recommends that the FDA should advise the whole food industry on best practices for record keeping through guidance documents.
Additional IFT recommendations to the FDA include the following:
- Clearly identify the types of data that industry needs to provide during an outbreak investigations
- Require each member of the food supply chain to develop, document and implement a product tracing plan
- Pursue the adoption of a technology platform to allow the FDA to efficiently aggregate and analyze data reported in response to regulatory requests
- Coordinate traceback investigations and develop response protocols between and among state and local health and regulatory agencies
- Offer extensive outreach and education around future regulations and expectations
"IFT expects that these recommendations will not only help protect consumers, but also help develop a better framework for industry and government to focus on food system improvements in the coming years," said IFT President John Ruff.
Results from the pilots also suggest that if a food company improves its ability to trace products, it can expect to improve processes, increase supply chain confidence and possibly expand its markets, said the IFT.
The FDA is soliciting input on the IFT report and will issue its own recommendations in a report to Congress. The full IFT report and additional materials are accessible at www.ift.org/traceability .