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:
- We need to do more in the way of foodborne illness prevention (i.e., food safety);
- We cannot test every piece of produce that comes out of the field (i.e., the need for traceability); and
- 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 www.producetraceability.org).
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.