Produce traceability three years later - The Packer

Produce traceability three years later

09/28/2012 03:40:00 PM
Gary Fleming

Gary FlemingGary FlemingThe Produce Traceability Initiative was launched in 2009 as the produce industry’s response to ever-increasing recalls beginning with the spinach recall in 2006.

The first milestone was scheduled for completion in 2009 and the final milestone by the end of 2012. After three years of hard work by the sponsoring trade associations and industry leaders, where are we with the PTI?

The majority of the produce industry agrees on some fundamental truths:

  1. We need to do more in the way of foodborne illness prevention (i.e., food safety);
  2. We cannot test every piece of produce that comes out of the field (i.e., the need for traceability); and
  3. We need a more efficient way to track and trace tainted product that slips through our food safety nets (i.e. further need for traceability).

Unfortunately, most companies’ position remains, “we will not do anything until we are forced to do it by either our buyers or the government.” Let’s take a critical look at those two groups.

Where are the buyers with PTI? A handful of large buyers have stepped up to the plate and are requiring PTI-compliance from their suppliers (see the PTI website at

The remaining retailers have either not yet formulated a stance on PTI or are still finalizing their plans.

Other fresh food sectors’ traceability initiatives (e.g., meat, poultry, seafood, dairy/deli/bakery, and foodservice) share the same standards, the same key elements, and largely the same processes as PTI.

This means that the changes retailers are making for produce can be leveraged uniformly across all fresh food sectors, giving retailers an extra push to make the necessary changes.

The retailer momentum has begun, but has been moving at a slow pace. If more buyers required PTI, food safety issues like the cantaloupe outbreak of this summer could have been better contained.

Where is the government with the PTI? The FDA conducted its traceability pilots in the first quarter of 2012.

Recommendations stemming from those successful pilots were delivered to the FDA in June.

We are now awaiting the draft regulations from the FDA based upon those findings. Given that a different solution could cause more delays and expense, and that the current PTI process has been shown to work across all fresh food sectors, it would seem that the PTI is here to stay.

While we can’t predict with certainty what the new regulations will be, Mike Taylor from the FDA has already announced that their regulations will build on what the industry has done.

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Ray Webb    
September, 29, 2012 at 08:49 PM

In 3 years of trying hard to force down PTI/GS1 the industry found out they where buffaloed by Mr. Fleming, a former GS1 employee, from the first day on about the traceability value of these expensive GTIN codes. All it does is ringing up the cash registers in some big stores because their employees can’t read and enter the PLU number fast enough. It's only about speeding up the check out and having a benchmark system of what is sold in an area for a company headquartered in United Kingdom paid by the producers. All the recalls we had with GTIN codes still lead to a total removal of all products. To repeat a wrong story still doesn’t make a true story. People that are qualified enough to run their own businesses are not so stupid they can’t see the whole scam of the game. Using the retailers by putting pressure on the producers by threatening them not buying their products shows the value of the code. It has nothing to do with FSMA. To repeat no one knows what FSMA will require is another silly story. Everybody in the organizations can tell their members as of today the urgently awaited rules will have extended and more refined GAP’s, heavy recordkeeping about sanitation and HACCP practices and documentation about prevention. The new registration system from FDA will take care of a rough form of traceback of contaminated food, as there is not a GTIN number needed or involved, just your FDA facility code.

Ted Schultze    
Maple Grove MN  |  October, 01, 2012 at 08:37 AM

I have been in the Auto I.D. business since 1973 when UPC was introduced and I have been involved in every major Auto I.D. initiative for grocery since then. All of the initiatives have had their nay sayers who have all had the same issues with the initiatives we are hearing about PTI. The fact is that the retailers now know they can use the PTI case labels to speed their internal picking operations, save money etc. This means PTI will become as common as a UPC symbol on retail package. a ITF-14 bar code on a corrugated case of dry goods etc. So, my advice is to start to get ready for what is inevitable. Plan now and keep the cost down or don't plan and put it in via a rush situation and it will cost you more. Your choice.

Ben Mark    
USA  |  October, 01, 2012 at 03:01 PM

You are correct, some retailers are saving money as the supllier has to pay for the ID to speed up the process in their facilities. You forgot about all the small stores they don't want the PTI case label. They don't belong to these organizations. The only rush situation is to register between now and end of December with FDA and be in compliance with FSMA not with PTI as the system doesn't work for traceback or food safety as we have been told over the years by GS1 affiliates.

Nogales Az  |  October, 03, 2012 at 05:00 PM

Some of you are missing the point, and not offering a solution. The point here is food safety, stop it, prevent any further wrong doing and save lives and money. The changes in produce are so dynamic that if you are involved in producing and fail to foresee what's coming and still try to abide by historical rather than actual needs, you will loose money and run the risk of getting behind in the game, a game in which you can't belong just by mere 'want' alone. Food canners have been doing traceability eons before fresh produce, it was only a matter of time until it reached the levels if irresponsibility from some farmers for a PTI to be put in place in the perishable industry. It will take more than 3 years of promoting, errors, failures food borne illness before we can minimize the risks of getting a safe food supply. Obtaining a food supply from the USA is NOT synonymous with food safety. The USA has far more food safety issues than all of those imports combined, why? because they used to require less supervision or none at all. Times have changed, and sorry to say but there is little place for romanticism when it comes to saving lives and having a price equilibrium in supplying food. If you are a small farmer and cannot implement an in-home PT solution with an excel program and a zebra printer, I would suggest joining a coop and putting this system together along with GTIN expenses. Why would I buy any food that has the potential to make me ill and just because it comes from a small producer that cannot afford traceability, I, my kids or some other consumer have to suffer ill or death because of this? I don't believe so. Mr. Fleming the industry needs more people like you.

Alvaro Ramirez    
San Francisco Bay Area  |  October, 03, 2012 at 06:03 PM

Boy, a lot of passion in this discussion. PTI is the industry answer to FSMA and in the hopes it works the government would ease up on bringing down its crazy regulations. If FDA begins to regulate it will not do it with having in mind how much it will cost to a market participant to implement traceability rather under the consumer protection blanket. And lets agree, we and every industry would be okay with the government interfering less. However if the main goal and should be to prevent loss of life then traceability should be as states applicable to any one whose product ends up in the hand of a consumer. Yes, I believe direct sellers to consumer should implement a form of traceability. And if when FDA decides to regulate it should include growers that direct sell. Saving money... Yes at the end of the day as business we are all looking at the bottom line and creating inefficiencies in the value chain can lower cost, save time even increase profit margins. The problem that no one seems to pay attention to is some of what Ray is saying. Why do some mid-to-small growers feel like they are being left with the burden of carrying the expense of implementing traceability. I truly believe PTI has a great benefit for mid-to-small growers. However it is hard to see that when the price tag for PTI technology is insane. I think Harvestresponse is the one that commented on pulling out Excel and begin to have traceability and a zebra printer. That will work if one has the understanding how to do it or at least the time to think it through to implement - What I believe is wrong with PTI is that many make more complicated than it actually is.

Alvaro Ramirez    
SF Bay Area  |  October, 03, 2012 at 06:10 PM

Sorry the website for produce traceability -

Nogales Az  |  October, 03, 2012 at 09:46 PM

If we as end consumers go to any point of sale, restaurant, retail, hospital that serves and or sells food for human consumption, why would we need to get ill or die from it? My perception is that our world has reached a point where traceability is a necessity. There are much more complicated audits for any food suppliers that would consider selling product say to South Korea. Regardless of what size of a farm the product is being produced at, the grower needs to implement traceability. It sounds more complicated than it really is. Data administration. If a farm has an accounting system, then it must integrate a traceability system to find out where their money is being at, at any given moment during the value chain, after all is money being transformed into an 'eatable good' and the reverted back to a bank account. A documented log, accessible within a practical timeframe in case it is needed; simple for humans to read and scanners from farm to retail stores to identify. Original and 3D barcodes. Any POS should be responsible for ensuring that their food supply is safe and wholesome for human consumption and they should guarantee that no risks are present. It is their name on the line before reaching our mouths. We have been ditching safe practices for so long, that we have reached the point where evasion is no longer an option. We are all responsible, as end consumers we need more education; Businesses making money from perishables need to change their priorities from what ever they are right now, to placing Food Safety as their #1. Of all the options that we make in business and life, they either add or take away value. Which ones are we making more of?

Washington  |  October, 04, 2012 at 08:32 AM

1) If PTI is the solution to better food safety, then why are restaurants and other institutions such as schools and hospitals not included? According to the National Restaurant Association, 49% of food dollars are spent eating out. 2) Does PTI measurably improve food safety when the majority of recalls occur after the product is out of the supply chain?

Ray Webb    
USA  |  October, 08, 2012 at 01:04 PM

PTI does nothing for food safety as it is just a tracking code for brand namesand a cash register ring-up code in big box stores. If someone can prove different let me know. We have recalls from different products every day and nothing can be found and everything has to be recalled for months on end. See onions with GTIN numbers ending up in sandwiches and salads. Stop the lies to the industry. PTI is not FMSA as you all know very well!

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