Before the Food and Drug Administration issues its own long-awaited guidance on food traceability systems, it apparently wants more input from the fresh produce industry and other stakeholders.

A public meeting scheduled for Dec. 9-10 in Washington, D.C. will provide the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with industry input on product tracing systems for food intended for human and animal consumption, according to a Nov. 3 Federal Register notice.

 â€œThis discussion will help FDA and Food Safety and Inspection Service determine what short and long-term steps the two agencies should take to enhance the current tracing system,” the Federal Register notice said.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the FDA is apparently going to issue guidelines for all food.

“The meeting in December will have a wide range of industries present, including the produce industry and PMA,” she said Nov. 3.

In statement about the meeting, Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association also indicated the group will testify at the meeting about progress of the Produce Traceability Initiative toward achieving whole chain traceability.

While the industry had been looking for FDA to issue its plan on produce traceability as early as October, Means said it now appears any regulation will not be issued until 2010. Just what that might entail also depends on food safety legislation passed by Congress, she said, but it is likely to address the entire food system.

“I think we anticipate a much wider-ranging solution,” she said.

Means said the traceability initiative could possibly expand to other types of food.

“I think we will see electronic record keeping required and a time limit in which folks have to produce records,” she said.

The Federal Register notice said the meeting will evaluate produce tracing systems to facilitate traceback investigations and traceforward operations for food products.

 Recent traceback investigations have shown, the FDA said, there needs to be a more sophisticated and effective product tracing system.

The FDA posed several questions in the Federal Register notice about issues it is seeking input on. Those questions include:

  • Should a lot or code number (or other identifier of the food) be assigned to food?
  • What data or information would be useful to include in a lot or code number?
  • Should the lot code or number be located on the shipping container, label — or both — of a packaged food?
  • Should some information about fresh produce (such as information identifying the name and physical location of any farm, packer or repacker that provided, processed, or packed fresh produce) be sent forward further in the supply chain than ‘‘one down?’’
  • What elements in an enhanced product tracing system might be standardized? Would such standardization be specific to an industry sector or type of food (e.g., fresh produce or frozen seafood) or could it apply across industry sectors?
  • Should some or all product tracing records be established and maintained in electronic form?
  • Should any or all enhancements to current product tracing systems apply regardless of risk, or should such improvements be based on risk? What criteria should be used to determine risk?
  • What are the costs, benefits and feasibility of implementing an enhanced product tracing system for each of the persons in the supply chain for various segments of the food industry?
FDA sets public traceability meeting for December