( The Packer staff )

We all love “fails” on the internet, as long it is not us. Bloopers, slips, falls — it is all too funny.

I asked the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Safety Traceability Group this question:
What is the biggest “fail” related to the ongoing investigation into romaine-E. coli outbreak?

As always the group was thoughtful and provided some interesting insight.

One member suggested the industry needs to stop pointing fingers at regulators and take some responsibility for the Produce Traceability Initiative not being effective as it could have been.

From his response:

“I remember my citrus grower clients making cogent arguments that prioritizing PTI compliance on relatively safe commodities like citrus was less important than making end-to-end traceability a reality for other commodities in a higher-risk category. And having PTI in place does little to rapidly track down the source of an outbreak without a distributed ledger system in place so that rapid data analysis can be achieved. Finally, don’t get me started (again) on the obvious need for consumer facing electronic transparency. A QR code like a smartlabel or datamatrix code on packaging could easily be used by savvy consumers to inform themselves in the event of a future food safety crisis. Why the industry does not embrace this off-the-shelf technology today (or 10 years ago, for that matter) defies logic.”

That comment makes sense to me. I think the lingering uncertainty about the cause of the outbreak has hurt growers not associated with it, and that is a big fail. Messaging has been a challenge for the industry and regulators. Perhaps the inability for investigators to close out the case is most disappointing. All of this relates to challenges in trying to trace product.

I think the lingering uncertainty about the cause of the outbreak has hurt growers not associated with it, and that is a big fail.

Just this week, a chorus of consumer groups have their own idea what solution is needed for food traceability fails.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, The Pew Charitable Trusts and five other organizations called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “propose, within six months, or requirements for comprehensive and rapid traceability of produce, including leafy greens.”

According to a news release, the groups urged the FDA to implement “long overdue” provisions of the 2011 FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, which require the agency to establish recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods to improve its ability to quickly trace the source of foodborne illness and initiate swift recalls.

The groups said that seven years after the enactment of FSMA, the FDA has failed to carry out Congress’ mandate to create a list of high-risk food and issue a proposed rule for enhanced recordkeeping. 

If the FDA takes up the controversial issue of identifying “high-risk foods” and then putting in place new record keeping requirements, it will undoubtedly take closer to six years, not six months. But given traceability fails that continue to happen, there is no time like the present to get the ball rolling.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s national editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

Submitted by Paul Pappas on Mon, 05/28/2018 - 16:46

I don’t think the issue is related to traceability as much as the time delay in realizing there is an issue. It is usually weeks later, the common thread is not easily identified, and by that time there is some certainty for a specific commodity, the retailer or food service establishment has thrown the boxes away which would help rapidly trace back. Many people that get ill from food borne pathetic do not immediately seek medical attention, which is the cause of the delay, and then they have to remember where and what they are. How do you solve that?