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Traceability key to increased supply chain confidence: study

A report from IFT finds the threat of not having product-tracing capabilities in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak could mean significant risks for food processors


Chicago, Ill. – If food companies improve their ability to trace products, they’ll also likely improve their business processes, increase supply chain confidence and possibly expand their markets.

That’s according to the results of two pilot projects the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conducted. IFT released its results last month.

The pilot projects were designed to test and study various product tracing practices for fresh produce and processed foods.

IFT says its report on the pilot projects offer important findings to help regulators resolve foodborne illness outbreaks earlier and enable the food industry to respond to them quicker. As a result, the public health impact of an outbreak will be greatly reduced.

Many companies in the food industry consider product tracing a subset of supply chain operations, and product tracing may not be a dominant consideration when making investment decisions.

However, the threat of not having product-tracing capabilities in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak represents significant risks to a firm.

One of IFT’s pilot projects focused on fresh produce and the other on processed foods. Tomatoes were selected for the fresh produce pilot, and foods consisting of chicken, peanuts and/or spices were selected for the processed food pilot. Foods selected for the pilots had been associated with outbreaks between 2005 and 2010.

Findings, recommendations

Key findings from IFT’s analysis of current product tracing practices indicate the following challenges associated with outbreak investigations:

• Tedious and difficult to sort through hundreds of pages of documents
• Confusion when data definition is lacking
• Inconsistent item descriptions
• Wrong or incomplete information cause delays
• Companies operating under multiple names are difficult to identify as sources

IFT also made several recommendations to the FDA, including:

• 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,” says John Ruff, IFT’s president.

Photo from: Earth Eats, Real Food Green Living