The Produce Traceability Initiative Council recently met to discuss the importance of traceability in investigations such as the recent outbreaks related to romaine lettuce. ( File photo )

Citing concerns about investigations into the source of recent foodborne illness outbreak and other recent events, the Produce Traceability Initiative Leadership Council met recently to put a new spotlight on voluntary adoption of PTI standards.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s romaine outbreak investigation, combined with an increasing number of fresh produce recalls, highlight the need to be able to trace our products through to the retail level,” Council co-chairman Doug Grant, executive vice president and chief operations officer at The Oppenheimer Group, said in a mid-August news release about the June 27 PTI Leadership Council meeting.

“And having more buyers step up and implement PTI at distribution and store level will also send a strong vote of confidence to our supply chain about the need for and value of traceability,” Grant said in the release, issued by the four PTI sponsoring organizations — the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, GS1 US, the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff has said that PTI labels would improve the agency’s investigations into recalls and outbreaks.

“I’d like to think that (PTI labels) would’ve made the traceback that we were engaged in not only considerably easier but also considerably faster,” Ostroff told Valley Public Radio, a San Joaquin National Public Radio network, according to the news release.

The PTI council also addressed other topics including a blockchain pilot with Walmart, IBM and other companies that traces items from the farm to stores. A fresh-cut mango program tracked the origin of the fruit to its origin within seconds instead of days, according to the release.

PTI implementation has slowed pending regulations of the Food Safety Modernization Act in the U.S. and the Safe Food for Canadians Act in Canada, according to the release. Industry must take the lead in meeting marketplace demands, according to the release, with the FDA’s limited authority.

Because of this, United Fresh and PMA have urged the FDA “leverage PTI as it builds traceability regulations.”

United Fresh is hosting a web seminar 2-3 p.m. Eastern Sept. 20 called: "Traceability: Is the Continued Criticism Warranted?”

“Despite the launch of the (PTI), the accessibility of technology, and advances such as Blockchain, regulators, consumer groups, and the media still pointed an accusatory finger at industry traceability during recent outbreaks,” according to a news release about the seminar. “Why? Understand the improvements that have been made, the challenges that persist, and how the entirety of the supply chain is coming together to tackle this issue.”

The seminar is free to United Fresh members and $100 for non members.