IFT study shows benefits of traceability

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON – The Institute of Food Technologists conducted two pilot projects to test and study various tracing practices for chicken, fresh produce and other processed foods, finding that if a food company improves their ability to trace products, the company may achieve improved business processes, increased supply-chain confidence and expand markets.

The pilot projects were conducted for the US Food and Drug Administration and required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. The pilots studied tomatoes, chicken, peanuts and spices.

The results found many companies in the food industry consider product tracing a subset of supply chain operations, and product tracing might not be a primary consideration in making investment decisions. Yet the IFT suggests the threat of not having product tracing capabilities in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak represents significant risks to a company.

Other findings from the IFT include challenges associated with outbreak investigations. Challenges include it being tedious and difficult to sort through hundreds of pages of documents, confusion when data definition is lacking, inconsistent item descriptions, wrong or incomplete information causing delays, and companies operating under multiple names being difficult to identify as sources.

The IFT is recommending the FDA to advise the food industry on best practices for recordkeeping through the use of guidance documents. The IFT also is recommending clearly identifying the types of data that the industry needs to provide an outbreak investigation and requiring each member of the food supply chain to develop, document and implement a product tracing plan. Additional recommendations include pursuing the adoption of a technology platform to allow the FDA to aggregate and analyze data recorded in response to a regulatory request, coordinate traceback investigations and develop response protocols between state and local health and regulatory agencies, and offer extensive outreach and education around future regulations.

FDA is seeking public comment on the IFT report. The agency is requesting information that will help FDA formulate its own recommendations. FDA plans to offer its recommendations in its report to Congress.

“FSMA also requires that we initiate rulemaking on recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods to make tracing them easier,” the agency said. “We will consider the comments received on the IFT report in implementing this FSMA provision.”

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