More from the Dec. 10 USDA-FDA hearing on traceability. Below is a question and answer session that includes some references to the cost of the Produce Traceability Initiative.

DR. SUNDLOF
: Okay. We have questions from the audience, and the first one goes to Kathy Means. How have you involved consumers in the PTI process -I can't read this word -it has evolution in there someplace.

MS. MEANS
: Okay. The PTI process is an industry process. It addresses items at the case level, not at the consumer level. So it wasn't envisioned to be something that involved consumers. They would not ever actually see the PTI barcode because that will happen on the case level.

DR. SUNDLOF
: Okay. And then a second question to you, Kathy. Commingling can occur at the retail level. How do you suggest that be handled?

MS. MEANS
: Once you get to the retail level and the boxes have been opened and it goes out onto the store shelves, it's again the same issue, that you're not going to know exactly what's in that bin from the consumer level.

However, the retailer has records of what they have brought into the store and what they're putting out there.  So imagine you have a bin of apples, and some are from Australia and some are from New Zealand and some are from the United States.

The retailer's going to have records of what they're selling. Obviously they want to charge the right price for the product that's out there. They want to know about their inventory control.

There are a whole lot of reasons besides traceability that they want to know the products that they have on the store shelves at any given time. So they would use their internal records to understand what was being sold at a particular time, and those external records, the PTI, would link it back then through the supply chain.

DR. SUNDLOF: Thank you. This question is for Richard Matoian. What are some of the specific lessons learned in the recent pistachio traceforward recall with respect to full chain traceability? And there's two sub-questions here also. What worked well? And what areas can be improved?

 MR. MATOIAN
: I think the first thing that we learned was that we can't rest on our laurels. The fact that we developed GAPs and GMPs back in 2000 were not enough.

We need, and the industry's now in the process where it's going to continually look at and revise its food safety standards and develop better mechanisms on a continual basis. In particular, regarding traceability, have better mechanisms in place, and that's why we're undergoing these studies right now, so that we can look at and determine a better system in place because one of the things we did learn was while the processor was able to quickly identify who he sold the product to, down the chain of command, as that product went to rebaggers, and then it was sold to other people who rebagged and then others who rebagged, is it started to really lose its identity. So we're going to need to develop a better system as a product moves down the chain.

 DR. SUNDLOF
: Thank you. This one is for Doug Bailey. How is the mpXML system being received? Is it popular? Do you have expectations to expand? And what are the costs?

MR. BAILEY: mpXML is, as I said, a not-for-profit industry trade organization. We work with our supplier members and our retailers, just to build kind of a neutral forum for issue resolution.

We've been, as I said, active for about 10 years now. We're always looking, though, to let industry know that we're here. We're focused on data standards and e-commerce, and essentially our models, standards for 10 years. I think we'll be all right, but again, most important to USDA and to our membership is we want a broad set of voices participating in the development of these technical standards.

We know the broader that voice, the more consistent, the more ready the adoption. So if anybody's interested, certainly I would love to talk to pulling more and more partners into the process.

DR. SUNDLOF: Okay. Thank you. And then one final question. This is back to Kathy. How can a produce company determine what the implementation cost is for PTI? Are there any published estimates?

MS. MEANS: That's a very popular question, and as I mentioned before, it has more to do with the company sophistication. It's not one price, you know. Here's the package and go and implement it. You may already have a lot of components within your own company, and you just need to add a couple, or maybe you're starting from scratch.

 If you're keeping your records in a shoe box, you're going to have a bigger ramp-up than someone who's already got some computer systems and has been able to link their internal systems as well.

So there is no single cost estimate for it. For some companies, it's very expensive. For other companies, less so. But there is a website, producetraceability.org, that has information about the various steps that you take so you can understand what you would have to do.

There are papers on how to do each of those steps, best practices. So you could take a look at those and see what's within those steps and those practices you've already got going for you and what you would need to add, and then you could talk to your various vendors, whether it's technology vendors or facility vendors or whatever it might be, about what those costs would be.

 DR. SUNDLOF
: Okay. Thank you, and can we have a round of applause for our panel.