International group encourages uniform traceability regsAfter reviewing traceability rules from 21 countries, the Global Food Traceability Center has published a guidance document that suggests a uniform, worldwide approach and explains when and where traceability should be documented.

Published in the September issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, the center’s best practices guidance document became available on the Web Aug. 19 at http://tinyurl.com/GFTCguidelines. The publication of the traceability guidance document comes one year after the Chicago’s nonprofit Institute of Food Technologies established the Global Food Traceability Center.

Ed Treacy, vice president for supply chain efficiencies at the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., was one of dozens of experts from businesses, industry groups, academia and governments who worked on the guidance document. He is also the current chairman of the International Federation of Produce Standards.

“The hope is for everyone in the world to have the same (requirements) for collecting information and keeping records,” Treacy said. “That way you don’t have to worry about how to do business with someone in another country and there won’t be any extra cost to do business with one country compared to another because everybody will be doing the same thing.”

Another subject matter expert who helped with the document, HarvestMark’s founder and chief technology officer Elliot Grant, said the guidance was created “for the good of all.”

“The goal is to create a shared framework and language for talking about, and digitally capturing, trace events in the food supply chain across multiple food types,” Grant said. “In fact, it should ultimately allow different software solutions to talk to each other.”

International group encourages uniform traceability regsWritten with regulators in mind

The guidance document is designed primarily for regulators around the world who are writing or revising food safety and traceability rules and regulations, according to its introduction section. It cites the global need for traceability during food-related disease outbreaks and provides the context of what some countries already require and what industry considers reasonably possible.

“The challenge being faced today is the gap between regulatory requirements and the feasibility of industry implementation,” according to the guidance introduction. “This document presents food traceability best practices guidance, and addresses the unknowns and gaps in understanding.”

The authors of the guidance document concluded the minimum traceability requirement, based on their review of existing requirements, is the one-step-forward, one-step-back approach. U.S. industry is familiar with the concept because of requirements in the Bioterrorism and Response Act of 2002.

“This best practice is applicable to companies of any size, degree of sophistication, or location,” according to the guidance document.

“No (countries’) current regulations have a specific data requirement along the entire supply chain. Furthermore, there are no uniform requirements for (when and where to collect data) along the supply chain, either across different sectors or between countries.”

Country comparisons

To standardize traceability, the guidance describes critical tracking events and key data elements (KDEs) that need to be documented. The “when” and “what” information includes transportation events, “transformation events,” including fresh-cut processes and repacking, and “depletion events,” such as when a case of fresh produce is opened and placed in bulk bins at a retailer or opened at a foodservice operation.

The document provides a country-by-country comparison of traceability regulations and ranks countries based on their food traceability requirements.

The European Union countries of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the European Free Trade Association countries of Norway and Switzerland, were all ranked “superior.”

The U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan and New Zealand were each ranked “average.” China was ranked “poor.” Data from the Russian Federation was insufficient, so it was not ranked.

The document included the following details on the country ranks:

    • EU Countries: “Regulations addressing the traceability of a broad range of foods and animal products of both domestic and imported origin have established those countries adopting EU legislation as strong leaders in global food traceability.”
    • U.S.: “While the new Food Safety Modernization Act is expected to improve food traceability capabilities for commodities, the development of regulations is still in the early stages. The U.S. does have robust identification and labeling requirements of packaged food products but is one of only two major beef producing countries without a national cattle identification or traceability system.”
    • Canada: “Traceability requirements through mandatory livestock identification are being strengthened. However, the efforts to create a national traceability system have failed to produce anything beyond limited livestock tracking.”
    • Australia, New Zealand and Brazil: “These countries have strong livestock identification and traceability systems, but need to develop more advanced traceability requirements for other domestic and imported foods. Requirements for being able to trace and track most foods from farm to fork are still absent.”
    • Japan: “Even though Japan’s beef labeling law for farm-to-fork traceability is now applicable only on domestic products, the Japanese government has adopted new regulations on rice traceability as well as other various commodities. This places Japan in a ‘fast-track’ position in food traceability.”
    • China: “The traceability system in China is still under development, and traceability is largely unregulated. China has recently announced impending changes to its food traceability laws.”