LAS VEGAS — With the news all too often bringing reports of yet another food safety event, the Produce Traceability Initiative is moving ahead on its timetable to realize traceability for every case of fresh produce shipped by 2012.

Underscoring the urgency for timely action, Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said a recent Health and Human Services Department traceability assessment found that companies' records are not detailed enough.

Disturbingly, the HHS study found only five out of 40 foods could be traced from supplier to buyer or buyer to supplier.

Panel charts traceability course at United Fresh event
                                                                  Tom Karst

Michael Durando, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Marketing Order Administrative Branch, and Leanne Skelton, chief of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service Fresh Products Branch, look at a traceability brochure at the United Fresh Produce Traceability Demonstration area.

Vache moderated a United Fresh exposition traceability workshop April 22.

Panelist Jim Corby, vice president of produce merchandising for Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., said adopting traceability standards is costly but that it came down to, "Could we afford to do it, or could we afford not to do it?"

Corby said all U.S. stores operated by Brussels, Belgium-based Delhaize Group - including Food Lion, Bloom and Sweet Bay banners - are on the same platform when it comes to product tracking and that all departments in the organization are involved.

Asked about how locally grown product fits in with traceability goals, Corby said because of the short distances and smaller volume that local growers have "in essence, some traceability right now."

Traceability timeline

Panel member Jane Proctor, vice president of policy and issues management for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Ottawa, laid out the traceability initiative's agenda for chainwide case-level traceability:

  • Brand owners obtain GS1 company prefix and assign 14-digit GTIN case codes. This was scheduled for completion at the end of March;
  • By the third quarter of 2009, brand owners must provide GTINs to buyers;
  • By the third quarter of 2010, packers are required to have human-readable information on every case and must encode GTIN and lot number in a GS1 bar code;
  • By 2011, receivers must record and store GTINs for inbound cases; and
  • In 2012, outbound handlers must record and store GTIN information.

Other concerns to be addressed, she said, are determining the minimum number of fields for information on cases and addressing comingling at repack operations.

Details can be viewed at, Proctor said.

The initiative is a collaboration among United Fresh, CPMA and the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.

Alan Garton, workshop panelist and director of industry development for GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., said 14-digit GTIN codes also can be used to generate store and chainwide reports in addition to aiding with product recalls and category management.