(UPDATED COVERAGE, Sept. 8) While vowing not to endorse any particular technology, the Institute of Food Technologists will carry out two pilot projects the Food and Drug Administration hopes will enhance their food traceback efforts.

The FDA on Sept. 7 announced the two pilot projects — one involving produce and one involving processed foods — will evaluate  methods and technologies for rapid and effective tracing of foods.

The Institute of Food Technologists will carry out the pilots for $500,000 under an existing FDA contract.

Variables that will be considered, according to the FDA, include  types of data used for traceback, methods to connect the supply chain and the how soon data is made available for FDA review.

The Food Safety Modernization Act requires that the agency create at least two pilot projects and also requires the FDA to implement record-keeping requirements for high-risk foods to assist in traceback investigations, according to an FDA news release.
Jennifer McEntire, senior staff scientist and director, Institute of Food Technologists, said IFT will announce its specific focus for the pilots by late October. She urged produce suppliers who want to participate in the pilots to contact IFT, and McEntire said technology providers for the pilot project have not been determined. IFT is expected to issue a report to FDA on the pilot projects by May, McEntire said. IFT plans to complete the traceability pilot projects by early March, she said.

“I want to stress that while we are charged with exploring how third party solutions can enhance the speed and accuracy of tracing, we will not be endorsing any particular system or technology,” she said.

Responding to one question about the Produce Traceability Initiative, McEntire said she doesn’t believe that IFT will do anything to discourage the industry from moving forward on the path the started to go down with the PTI. “We will continue to work with the trade associations in ensuring that these pilot studies capture and assess the good work that is already being done in the produce industry,”

Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said he was not surprised nor disappointed that FDA won’t endorse a particular technology solution.  “PTI is not about technology, it is about standards.”

Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said United Fresh will support the FDA’s pilot program.

“The FDA knows what we are doing with PTI, and Mike Taylor has encouraged us to keep moving the ball down the field with PTI,” he said.  “Hopefully they will rely on us to understand what we have done as an industry and the complexity of the supply chain.”

 An FDA overview of the Product Trading Pilot Projects is available here.