One produce industry participant in the FDA-USDA traceability hearing on Dec. 9 was Greg Fritz of Produce Packaging Inc., Cleveland Ohio. Here is the transcript of his remarks, with Greg "keeping it real" about PTI.
MS. McGARRY: Next is Gregory Fritz from Produce Packaging. Please come to the podium.
MR. FRITZ: Good afternoon. My name is Greg Fritz, and I'm the fourth generation in my family selling wholesale fresh produce in Cleveland, Ohio.
My company, Produce Packaging, Incorporated, is a tomato repacker and fresh cut processor. Since we serve national chain restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory, Panera Bread, and Applebee's, our customers demand a very high level of food safety, including traceability.
We undergo many food safety audits annually and are constantly working to improve our plant and processes. Being a tomato repacker, our company suffered significant sales and profitability losses when tomatoes were wrongly implicated in the Salmonella scare last year.
The purpose of my coming to this meeting is to make sure you understand the impact to small businesses and a major potential fallout pending traceability legislation. As Dr. Gombas just mentioned, our produce industry associations have adopted the produce traceability initiative, or PTI, in an effort to have a uniform national traceability system. In my humble opinion, the PTI is a boondoggle.
However, earlier this year, one of my largest customers told me to comply with the PTI. So we've been working diligently to do so. Our company has always had its own traceability system in place which allowed quick and accurate one up, one back traceability at the case level. With PTI, we essentially are doing the same thing, but we've had to additionally do the following:
Earlier this year, we purchased a manufacture number from GS1 that cost $8500 and then has to be renewed each year for $800. We purchased two laptops, printers, software, installation, and training at a cost of $10,000, and printing the new PTI compliant labels will cost our company an extra $18,000 a year just for the labels.
Over the next few months, we're going to begin work on implementing the final milestones of PTI, the scanning and record keeping portion. I estimate that will cost another $20,000 in up front costs. On top of all this, compliance with PTI is going to require a full-time equivalent employee to administer at a cost of at least $40,000 a year from now on.
For the last few years, my customers have been demanding to pay less in order for me to retain their business. They're not going to agree to pay more for traceability. They're basically demanding that I do it for nothing. I advocate the status quo, that is the simple requirement of one up, one back traceability that's essential and cost efficient. However, I can see the writing on the wall, and if PTI must move forward, its cost burden must be lessened. My company employs about 120 people whose livelihoods obviously depend on my company being profitable and competitive.