Traceability is a hot-button issue for Washington apple marketers, but that doesn’t mean the industry is hitting the panic button.

“At this point, one or two retailers are very serious about traceability and we have worked hard to be close to the Produce Traceability Initiative timeline,” said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, Yakima.

Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Rainier Fruit Co., said the Selah, Wash.-based company has assigned Global Trade Item Numbers to all of its products and is testing a process with a customer to put all the GTIN numbers on the apple boxes.

While a couple of retailers have emphasized the need for the PTI solution, Wolter said more retailers need to demonstrate their investment in PIT.

Washington apple shippers said they are hearing from some of their retailers about the issue, and want to make sure that whatever solutions are put in place are not duplicative and inefficient.

“We want to do it one way and not five different ways,” said Randy Steensma, vice president and general manager of Honey Bear Tree Fruit Co., Wenatchee, Wash.

Standardization of traceability requirements is the issue, he said. “Retailers are willing to harmonize also, but somebody has to take the ball and run with it,” Steensma said.

History lesson

Shippers want to avoid having to facilitate four or five different traceability systems, agreed Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.

That confusion happened during the dot com area of nearly a decade ago, Pepperl said, when retail produce executives flocked to jobs with Web based electronic trading systems and sold their systems to suppliers.

“We had 10 licenses for trading systems,” Pepperl said. “A chain would say, ‘You need to have this trading system,’” he said. “We signed up for it but never used it,” he said.

In a similar way, food safety audits have multiplied in number and created a strain on suppliers because of multiple audits.

That is why it is important, Pepperl said, for retailers and third-party vendors to allow for solutions that don’t lead to inefficiencies, he said.