(Nov. 30) U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials see the lack of clear produce traceability as a major industry vulnerability, trade association leaders acknowledge.

A coalition of those trade associations, retailers, foodservice operators and grower-shippers — known as the Produce Traceability Initiative — are addressing that liability with an action plan for whole chain traceability. A steering committee has scheduled a Jan. 9 meeting in Atlanta.

“The FDA has pointed that (the lack of produce traceability) in outbreak investigation after outbreak investigation,” said David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C. “Traceability will be able to limit recalls and alerts, and because the industry can’t do that, it’s a problem.”

The joint initiative brings together the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh and Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association. Members of the steering committee were announced Nov. 28.

The boards of directors of United Fresh, PMA and CPMA agreed earlier in the year for the need for greater progress in implementing a whole-chain traceability solution, according to a news release from the groups.

While many produce companies have traceability within their own four walls, Jane Proctor, director of industry technology and standardization for CPMA, said Canada and the U.S. have a long way to go for full chain traceability.

Gary Fleming, PMA’s vice president of industry technology and standards, said pallet and case-level produce traceability is the goal.

“We have some challenges at the item level, but those challenges will be reviewed at the meeting,” he said.

What it would take for parties to move on whole-chain traceability without government mandate is still uncertain, Fleming said.

“It was paramount to get senior executives at the table because they are the decision makers,” he said.

Fleming said the Jan. 9 meeting won’t be open to the news media. The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., will moderate the discussion, he said.

Topics might include traceability best practices, timelines and goals for adoption, and a process for accountability, according to the joint news release.

Cathy Green, chief operating officer of Food Lion LLC, is chairwoman of the steering committee.

Web Editor’s note: For a complete list of members on the Produce Traceability Initiative’s current steering committee, see “Produce Traceability Initiative names committee” under our Web Exclusives section on ThePacker.com's home page.