The 2006 spinach crisis and the foodborne illness outbreaks that followed sent the produce industry scrambling. 
 
In those days, many grower-shippers had their own proprietary traceability and case labeling system. No one seemed to have a handle on how to identify implicated product, trace it back to the source, and, when necessary, recall product. 
 
Delays from the time of consumption to a food safety outbreak only exacerbated the problem. It was clear the industry needed a standard case label and methodology to share traceability data. 
 
Something had to be done. Industry leaders asked produce associations to develop a system for chainwide traceability. 
 
Enter the Produce Traceability Initiative.
 
PTI was formed in 2008 and now outlines a course of action to achieve supply chain-wide adoption of electronic traceability of every case of produce. GS1 US joined PTI in 2010 to help develop a steering committee and new governance structure. 
 
Later that year, the organization began the creation of a tool outlining the seven milestones to PTI implementation. 
 
Over the past six years, case studies, pilot projects, educational materials, best practices and guidance documents have been created with industry participation to help companies meet the requirements of each milestone.
 
While there is much to be proud of, there is still much to be done to move our industry forward and regain the trust and confidence in our nutritious fruits and vegetables. 
 
With an industry handling billions of cases of produce in the U.S. each year, PTI needs greater adoption. 
 
Case-level electronic traceability leveraging GS1 standards continues to be an industry priority across retail grocery, wholesale and foodservice operations. 
 
Companies implementing PTI best practices see benefits like limiting the scope of a food safety event, precise recall preparedness and other operational efficiencies. 
 
These practices are based on unique product identification with Global Trade Item Numbers and batch/lot data encoded in GS1-128 barcodes.
 
While some important retailers support PTI and many foodservice operators are asking their suppliers for PTI case labeling and traceability data, broad support from the buy side remains a challenge.
 
A more systematic, industry-wide approach with common GS1 standards will enhance the speed and efficiency of supply chain traceability. 
 
The use of standards in the supply chain across the industry will also significantly enhance the ability to narrow the impact of potential recalls or similar problems, protecting consumers and trading partners.
 
The benefits to trading partners are many. PTI enables the industry to maintain and enhance the confidence of consumers and government agencies by demonstrating industry’s commitment to food safety. 
 
It can also limit the scope and cost of recalls to suspect products through improved traceability combined with quicker and more accurate recalls/product withdrawal. 
 
While these benefits are important, PTI also helps meet a critical criterion for today’s discerning public — increased visibility and transparency around where and how food is grown. 
 
All of us in the industry need to do our part and be accountable. 
 
By implementing PTI at Oppy, we have realized many efficiencies in our supply chain. Most of our growers have adopted PTI labeling, and we have ASN (advance ship notices) ready to share PTI data with trading partners, enhancing our system with improved tracking capabilities. 
 
For Markon, two of our members are actively adopting the GS1 foodservice standards, and they are eager to have Markon sharing PTI data.
 
The need for this again surfaced with a recall of cucumbers whose final destination could not be confirmed. Absent this information, there is much broader than necessary involvement of operators, which extends poor perceptions of produce safety and adds time and additional expenses. 
 
PTI continues to be an important initiative for foodservice operators, retailers and suppliers alike. 
 
If you have not adopted PTI initiatives, please consider doing so. 
 
As an industry, we need to be accountable and responsible. 
 
The more of us who join together on the effort, the more we will be able to instill a sense of confidence in the produce industry and food systems that provide Americans with healthy — and safe — fruits and vegetables. 
 
Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative. Centerplate is a monthly column on “what’s now and next” for foodservice and the implications for produce. E-mail timy@markon.com. Doug Grant is executive vice president and chief operations officer of Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.
 
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