ORLANDO, Fla. — The European E. coli outbreak and the struggle by government authorities to find its source recently provided a real-life lesson on supply-chain traceability.

Produce industry taking baby steps on traceabilityEd Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, talked about the outbreak during the UConnect Live conference, sponsored by GS1 US, May 31-June 3.

Without a standards-based whole-chain traceability process, Europe’s produce industry is trying to determine where the product originated from and where it was consumed in a one-up and one-down system, similar to the U.S., Treacy said.

“The produce industry is probably 20 years behind the center of the store as far as being technologically advanced,” Treacy said during a June 3 panel session. “They’re packers and shippers. Now we’re asking them to get GS1 company prefixes and come up with systems that apply labels. This is a big stretch for the industry. The big guys get it but there are many more family-run small farms.”

In a June 3 session on e-commerce, Mikelea Kelley, e-business manager at Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif., said electronic data interchange accounts for a small part of Tanimura & Antle’s business. She said a large part of the company’s customer base can’t handle EDI.

“It’s hard to get users on their side to realize they’re not being replaced by this, which allows information to flow directly into our system,” Kelley said. “But at the same time, it’s viewed as a threat to people used to entering orders. There are all kinds of little opportunities but resistance to change and being afraid their customers won’t maintain a relationship are big challenges.”

Alan Newton, a consultant for A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, said the fragmented produce industry, ranging from growers, shippers, repackers and terminal markets, sees limited use of GS1 number standards. He said he rarely sees a grower-shipper applying GS1 labels on products. Newton said the Global Trade Identification Number standards should help with category management and front-end accuracy.

“We (Duda) were one of the ones hoping it (global data synchronization) would go away,” he said. “It appears it’s not, so we’re tackling it.”

Greg Zwanziger, director of electronic commerce and business development for Supervalu Inc., Minneapolis, said the broadline distributor is aggressively expanding global data synchronization activity in bakery, deli and meat departments and has expanded pilot projects for fresh produce, particularly with the Produce Traceability Initiative.

“We are looking at best practices around the (PTI) process,” Zwanziger said. “We will follow what comes out of PTI in the near-term. In the long term, we will get produce to work with the full synchronization process. But it’s baby steps. We are marching down a path to get there.”

Jon Mellor, director of external communications for GS1 US, Lawrenceville, N.J., said the conference saw 1,250 people attended the conference, up from 1,150 in 2010.