Whether you are field packing, using a small open-air shed or running multiple lines in a high-tech facility, the challenges of traceability labeling are worth conquering, according to produce industry leaders.

A recent case history documented a strawberry packer who saw quality claims drop so much that the cost of implementing of Produce Traceability Initiative labeling was completely offset, said Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Produce Marketing Association.

In an educational video on the PMA website, Treacy discusses several companies’ experiences and the unanticipated benefits they discovered when implementing PTI labeling at the point of packing.

The addition of traceability labels at the strawberry operation allowed the company to track which of three picking crews packed which fruit.

“They posted the results daily on which picking crew had what percentage of rejects from their customers,” Treacy says in the video.

“They never disciplined the employees, but what they found was … the crews started getting competitive with each other and they brought the total (quality) claims down from around 5% to less than 1%. That gain of 4% paid for their entire cost of PTI implementation.”

Smaller growers’ concerns

Traceability challenges at packing level worth conqueringTraceability at the packing level can be tricky, though, said Todd Baggett, chief executive officer of technology provider RedLine Solutions, Santa Clara, Calif., during a recent Web seminar aimed at smaller packing operations.

Baggett said smaller packers with volumes of 2,000 to 3,000 cartons a day or less often express concerns that PTI compliance would be too complicated or too expensive for them.

He cited examples of listeria and salmonella outbreaks linked to small cantaloupe growing-packing operations last year and this year as examples of why traceability is vital.

Baggett said it is crucial for packers to use lot numbers that are date specific, if a lot takes more than one day to pack.

One packer attending the online seminar questioned the necessity of the specific pack date if the commodity is from a single lot. Baggett said there are so many variables in packing operations, such as wash water testing and changing, that date-specific information can be invaluable during inspections, audits or recalls.

Treacy said companies have documented reductions in over- and under-selling as well as reductions in shrink because delivery scheduled can be based on when a commodity was packed rather than when a truck showed up at a dock.