Renewed Focus on Food Traceability

In just a few weeks, food safety experts from all over the globe will meet in Washington, DC for the Global Food Safety Conference. The event, sponsored by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), will take place February 3 – 5. Attendees include food retailers, manufacturers, and public health groups, all meeting to discuss food safety issues and standards.

In addition, many are hopeful that Congress will do more on food safety laws. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill that would greatly increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority over food manufacturing, cleared the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in Nov 2009 and is now in the Senate for a vote. A big issue of food safety is traceability, and one point of the bill is the “establishment of a pilot project in coordination with the produce industry to explore and evaluate methods for effectively tracking and tracing fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities”.

Can we really have the ability to trace food within the chain of distribution, or from “farm to fork”? Nobody disputes that traceability is a benefit for consumers and producers alike, but putting standards and mandates into place is not so easy. And it seems that some regulations are just not being followed. For example, last March the Wall Street Journal reported that 60% of surveyed facilities covered by the regulations were not keeping the records they should. WSJ also reported that a “watchdog agency” tried to trace 40 items such as fresh tomatoes, whole milk, oatmeal, and yogurt from retail stores to the farm where they were grown, but could do so for only five items. Such reports do little to give confidence to consumers that outbreaks of illness due to contaminated food could be quickly discovered and removed from the grocery shelves.

Perhaps with the recent attention on food tracking and safety, effective management systems will develop for food producers to use, resulting in safer food for consumers.

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