FDA Takes Steps in Improving Food Traceability

FDA proposed a new rule that lays the foundation for end-to-end traceability across the food industry.

The proposed rule would create a first-of-its-kind standardized approach to traceability recordkeeping, paving the way for industry to adopt and leverage more digital, tech-enabled traceability systems both in the near term and the future. FDA is also releasing a draft Food Traceability List that identifies foods to which the additional recordkeeping requirements would apply.

FSMA section 204, Enhancing Tracking and Tracing of Food and Recordkeeping, instructs FDA to develop additional recordkeeping requirements for certain foods to establish clear tracing of a food product’s source if needed to address food safety risks. When finalized, the proposed rule would implement this component of the food safety law.

More comprehensive traceability through access to records of key data associated with critical tracking events in food products and distribution has the potential to help pinpoint the exact sources of foods involved in foodborne illness outbreaks.

This can help remove potentially unsafe products from the market quicker—preventing hospital visits and even deaths. It will also aid in conducting root cause investigations to figure out what went wrong leading to the outbreak.

Knowing the source of contaminated food is key in fully diagnosing the problem and then working to develop and implement strategies to prevent similar issues in the future. Recent foodborne illness outbreaks tied to fresh produce like leafy greens and papayas, among others, highlight the importance of traceability.

A study by Zebra Technologies Corp. found that only two in 10 consumers have complete confidence their food is safe to eat, reported Valdosta Daily Times (Sept. 16).

About seven in 10 industry decision-makers say the industry is prepared to manage food traceability and transparency, but only 35% of consumers agree. Only 13% of consumers felt the industry was extremely prepared today to manage food traceability and be transparent about how food travels through the supply chain, whereas 27% of decision-makers reported feeling this way.

“Findings from our study show that while the industry is taking measures to ensure a more transparent supply chain, more work needs to be done in order to increase consumer confidence and improve food traceability,” said Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions, Zebra Technologies. “Businesses naturally have more information available to them but can improve consumers’ faith in their food sources by providing them access to the same information.”

The majority (90%) of decision-makers acknowledged that investments in traceability-focused solutions will provide them with a competitive advantage by enabling them to meet consumer expectations. When asked about the top benefits that technology-based track and trace solutions would provide, nearly six in 10 decision-makers cited risk reductions with proper handling, transportation and storage, and tracking product perishability.

Forty-one percent of the industry decision-makers also reported RFID tags improve food traceability within the supply chain more than any other technology, yet only 31% currently use them within their own organizations. To boost use, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recently awarded contracts to purchase up to 8 million low-frequency RFID ear tags in August to increase overall animal disease traceability in cattle and bison.

In Hong Kong, the local chapter of GS1, a not-for-profit global supply chain standards organization, launched the new Quality Food Scheme+ program to encourage food and beverage enterprises to adopt more stringent measures to meet  internationally accredited traceability standards, reported New Food Magazine (Sept. 8). The announcement followed Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety issuing more than 75 food alerts since the start of 2020.

The new program will provide companies with disease prevention advice, including industry best practices and how food safety management is uplifted through proper technology adoption.

“The food and foodservice industry is facing many challenges, primarily the public trust in food safety,” said May Chung, chairperson of Hong Kong Food and beverage industry advisory board of GS1 HK, and general manager of Nestlé Hong Kong Ltd. “The launch of the new scheme is a perfect opportunity for the industry to be appraised by three international standards, improve food traceability, as well as enhance food safety management and control throughout the supply chain. When consumers see the new scheme logo, they feel safer to buy and consume.”

Additionally, in helping retain consumer confidence, the world’s third-largest cocoa processor Olam International Ltd. recently announced it can now trace the supply of the majority of the beans it buys, reported Bloomberg (Sept. 21).

It’s able to track all the cocoa in its direct supply chain in nine countries back to an individual farm, community, or the first point of purchase. That’s about 60% of the beans the Singapore-based trader purchases, or 12% of the world’s cocoa.