The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) said the recent recall of over a half-million eggs  highlights the crucial need for effective product tracing systems.  The IFT said a product tracing system would make it possible to identify foodborne illness outbreaks earlier as well as contain the outbreak faster.

bar-code1-featured.jpgA joint report released by the IFT and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended guidelines that would establish a comprehensive product tracing system to track the movement of food products effectively from farm to point of sale or service.

“Product tracing is a critical part of the food safety legislation that is currently under review because it serves to protect and improve the food supply, not only here in the United States but the throughout the global food system,” said IFT Vice President Will Fisher.

Included in the recommendations from IFT and the FDA are:

* Creation of a standard list of key data or information to be collected,
* Standardization of formats for expressing the information,
* Identification of the points along the supply chain, internally and between partners, where information needs to be captured,
* Comprehensive record keeping that allows the linking of information both internally and with partners,
* Use of electronic systems for data transfer,
* Inclusion of traceability as a requirement within audits,
* Required training and education on what compliance entails.

According to the study’s authors, “the safety of the food supply requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort among all stakeholders throughout the system from farm to fork including growers, farm workers, packers, shippers, transporters, importers, wholesalers, retailers, government agencies, as well as consumers.”

The recommendations concluded that setting clear objectives for those in the food supply chain is the most appropriate approach to effective product tracing.  IFT proposes that the system be simple and user friendly as well as globally accepted.  In addition, the system should have the ability to leverage existing industry systems.

The study on traceability in the food system was commissioned to IFT by the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.  Study authors, which included experts from academia, industry, and government, collected information from 58 different food companies involved in produce, packaged consumer goods, processed ingredients, distribution, food service, retail, and animal feed.

The analysis was a review of diverse product tracing methods, practices in non-food industries, and standards and regulations pertaining to traceability worldwide.  IFT experts also suggested changes for systems and practices currently in place in order to help track the movement of food products from farm to table to ultimately protect public health.

IFT maintains that through a concerted effort, product tracing can help protect the public health, boost consumer confidence, and manage costs faced by affected industries in the supply chain following a food safety incident.