David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, explained the progress of the Produce Traceability Initiative and how it would likely put suppliers in line with future FDA regulations.
Gombas said the case-level labeling system that uses unique company and item numbers along with a barcode is capable of providing more information, and more accurately than many current systems. The result is a fast turnover of reliable information to regulatory agencies should an outbreak occur.
âIn 2008, the tomato industry was devastated because at the end of the day the FDA didnât believe the traceability records,â Gombas said. âWe have to have defensible, accurate, credible records otherwise we will remain vulnerable to the same kind of issue again.â
McGarry said that PTI was a âgreat industry initiativeâ and had âa lot of really good elements in itâ though she said she was not endorsing PTI, nor could she predict how final legislation would direct FDA to act with respect to traceability.
Nonetheless, she affirmed that she hasnât seen anything inconsistent between the bills in Congress and what PTI is promoting.
One issue confronting many growers interested in adopting PTI is the cost of implementation.
Asked how PTI could be affordable for smaller businesses, Gombas said the industry relies on solution providers to make adopting the system scalable, but he could not comment on the cost of obtaining a GS1 number.
âAll the record keeping behind that, the verification, all of the labor thatâs going to be involved in it. Yeah, thatâs all going to cost,â he said. âBut, itâs becoming a situation where itâs going to be the cost of doing business.â
McGarry said she has heard the same about the cost of PTI, but data supporting such claims is scant.
âI have also heard about several other possible traceability systems are all too expensive and I think we are really lacking data as to whether it is too expensive,â she said.
During a question-and-answer period, Gombas was also asked to comment on industry reluctance to move forward and meet timetables for PTI implementation.
âThere is some reluctance, there is some confusion, and thereâs a lot of wait-and-see,â he said. âThen again, there are others in the industry, about 50% or so, that have said, âfull-speed ahead.â We have confidence that what we have set out to do with PTI will be consistent with what Congress and FDA want to do in this respect.â