IFT was contracted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create a mock trace forward/trace back system focusing on produce, to examine the accessibility of information to public health and regulatory officials, and to consider the cost implications of product tracing. The project was prompted by the 2008 salmonella outbreak that was initially linked to tomatoes before the FDA found that it had originated in Mexican jalapeno and serrano peppers. By that point, the tomato industry had lost an estimated $100m.
“Best practices in product tracing would improve the speed and efficiency of response following a food safety triggering event, shorten duration of food borne outbreaks, and contribute to the maintenance of consumer confidence,” IFT said.
Consumer confidence has been shaken as the list of food ingredients that have become tainted with various pathogens has lengthened. A recent survey conducted by IBM found that 60 percent of people are actively concerned about the safety of the food they purchase. Fewer than one in five said they trusted food companies to develop and sell healthy products, and only 55 percent said they trusted manufacturers when dealing with the recall of a tainted food.
IFT recommended that the tracing system should become more standardized and should apply to all segments of the food supply chain. It also concluded that there is a need for clear food industry objectives, and that existing tracing systems should be used as a basis for meeting those objectives.
“The product tracing system should be simple, user friendly, and globally accepted,” the organization said.
Given the prevalence of paper, IFT said it did not feel comfortable recommending that electronic tracking should be mandatory. Instead, it recommended that certain critical tracking events should be captured in an electronic format, in order to allow a search of that data. At the moment, paperwork, including electronic paperwork, often lacks some of the information necessary to track products, it said.
“Improving FDA’s ability to trace a contaminated product back to the source of production would allow the agency to conduct more rapid, accurate investigations. Current laws limit the types of information that are required to be kept by food companies, and limit the ways in which FDA can access these records.”
The full report of IFT’s recommendations can be accessed online here.
IFT released its report examining food traceability in November last year. That report can be accessed online here.