The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Wednesday announced the launch of two pilot programs that will explore the best methods for tracing back food to its source. 

The pilots are mandated by the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires FDA to implement a set of record-keeping requirements for companies that produce high-risk foods in order to improve the traceability of these products.

Two food categories – produce and processed foods – will be assessed, one by each program, in order to determine the most efficient ways to record and communicate product information. 

The pilots will be conducted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), which last year released a recommended set of traceback guidelines to FDA. These two new studies will serve as guidance for FDA as it develops its proposed rules for food industry record-keeping. 

“The pilots are an important step in helping us … to learn more about tracing food products back to identify a common source in the supply chain when a food contamination event occurs, such as in a foodborne outbreak,” said Sherri McGarry of FDA, head of the Inspections and Compliance Implementation Team for FSMA. 

Knowing where the various ingredients of a product came from is a key element in a foodborne illness outbreak investigation. This allows health departments to recall products and potentially prevent more people from getting sick. But traceback can be difficult when items such as frozen meals may include upwards of 10 or even 30 ingredients from multiple sources. 

“Tracing helps us to determine not only what food may be the cause of the outbreak but also those foods that may be less likely to be involved,” says McGarry

FDA says that significant gaps exist in today’s current record-keeping systems. 

“Many producers, manufacturers and retailers have product tracing systems in place but they vary depending on the amount of information the system records, how far forward or backwards in the supply chain the system tracks, technologies used to maintain records and the precision with which a system can pinpoint a product’s movement,” it reports on its Product Tracing site.  

These two new FSMA-mandated projects will focus on what types of records are currently collected and how this existing data can be better communicated, as well as what further information must be recorded, says Jennifer McEntire, Manager of Science and Technology Projects for IFT.

The current studies will focus on those foods that have been linked to a foodborne illness outbreak within the past few years, she says. 

The projects, says McEntire, will be a collaboration among all stakeholders in food traceback. IFT hopes to hear from any producers of produce or processed items interested in being involved in the project.  

“FDA has indicated it wants to include industries representing the entire supply chain, from growers to restaurants and grocery stores,” says McGarry. 

IFT will also be seeking input from traceback technology companies that may be able to offer insight into the most efficient tracing solutions.

However, McEntire stresses that no one technology or solution will be recommended by IFT in its final report – which it hopes to release in 9 months. 

IFT will begin soliciting advice from stakeholders in a few weeks, McEntire says, and expects to complete the studies by early March of next year. 

  • Doc Mudd

    Great news about enhanced traceability for FSMA regulated food producers and their customers!
    That leaves only about 5000 farmers markets and about 12000 CSA market garden operations legally flying completely under FSMA’s food safety radar thanks to the Tester amendment.
    This situation is OK, though. In fact it is desirable that as localized food poisoning outbreaks occur from Tester exempt foods the neighborhood victims should remain mystified as to what happened to them. A mystic aura, after all, and stunning overpricing are the only differentiation of local hobby farm food from good, wholesome, affordable, FSMA monitored mainstream food. Mysticism, properly hyped, can literally double the price of common food as it turns out! So, the more mystified the local consumer, the better for the local market gardener and farmers market reseller!

  • Steve

    Talk about mysticism — would that the William Blake quote, “If a fool would persist in his folly he would become wise” would hold true for the Muddian Disinformationalist —
    But no, it seems, all we get is the same old foolish D.M. disinformation about his spurious version of Tester Amendment, when, in fact, small scale farmers ARE held accountable — not under ruinous one-size-fits-all regs favored by Industry that would put them out of business but under the scale-approriate standards that are already built in to the Food Safety Modernization Act.
    And, in fact, FSMA’s Bennett Amendment puts forth a one-up; one-down (where it came from; who it was sold to) traceability standard that is appropriate to small scale growers. But while it is highly necessary for risky Big Food (who produce and distribute over 90% of the food consumed in this country) to utilize the latest barcoding, etc. traceability technology, shorter supply chains are different. It makes no sense for small growers to have to apply for FDA documentation for each of their fields and then purchase the expensive bar-coding technology required for compliance.
    And on their pilot project call yesterday FDA acknowledged same — their intent is not to specify the technology, but the end result of appropriate traceability…

  • Doc Mudd

    Right, “one up, one down”…so, how’d that work out recently in a live situation?—it-really-was-bambi-that-did-it/
    Thank goodness for a competent health department staffed with dedicated epidemiologists in Oregon — health professionals who successfully broke through the “one up, one down” obfuscation…this time. Do you and your family live in a region policed by such diligent medical authorities? Trust me, you don’t want to have to find out.
    Be a smart safe shopper for your family — avoid farmers market foods where “one up, one down” is seldom documented even with a printed receipt! Maybe you can visually identify the poisoner from a lineup, eh? Good luck with that. At farmers markets and CSA it’s caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!!

  • Steve

    Yo, Earth to Mudddd…
    FYI — FSMA hasn’t kicked in yet…. for any scale agriculture… and in fact the regs don’t exist at this point.
    FDA is still in the initial rule-making stage. Then there’s a public comment period followed by final rule-making before FSMA becomes implemented…. looks like sometime in 2012….

  • Doc Mudd

    Talk about your “one up, one down”, here’s a ‘hot off the presses’ report of health inspections at Seattle farmers markets…
    Prospects for safe shopping are more ‘down’ than up, sounds like. Take special notice how vendors and market managers voice no concern for food safety or customer welfare, only able to crank and whine over increased fees to cover necessary inspections of their grubby venues.
    At the farmers market, CSA and yuppie deli it’s caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!

  • Michael Bulger

    From Mudd:
    “Take special notice how vendors and market managers voice no concern for food safety or customer welfare…”
    Directly from Mudd’s linked article:
    “Curtis said she considered food safety of paramount importance..”
    (Curtis is director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle).

  • Doc Mudd

    OK, complete the quote:
    “Curtis said she considered food safety of paramount importance, but worried about fee hardship on markets”
    She acknowledged food safety, her CONCERN is with fees.
    Michael, this cherrypicking of papers and data and details has got to stop if you desire to be taken seriously, my young friend. Is this how Nestle is training you at NYU?

  • Michael Bulger

    Why don’t you you investigate the definition of paramount? This has much less to do with Dr. Nestle then it does with the English language. Your statement that there was “no concern for food safety or consumer welfare” has been effectively rebuked. End of story.
    You seem to take very personally, “Doc Mudd”. I assure you, I am not “cherrypicking”. My comments are a reflection of literacy, sound interpretation, and leading consensus. I have no interest in deceiving myself or furthering a feeble premise. This is far too serious a subject.