(March 27, 12:25 p.m.) A 38-page report on food traceability from the Office of Inspector General recommends the Food and Drug Administration consider authority to bolster existing traceability record-keeping requirements.

The March 26 report was issued the same day as a hearing on food traceability by the House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Subcommittee. Chairwoman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in her opening statement that “traceability today simply is not good enough.”

DeLauro said the salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes and peppers last year raised questions about what would have happened if a more robust traceability system would have been in place.

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., testified, and said in his opening statement that the produce industry is committed to ensuring the ability to track fresh produce back to its source.

Stenzel described the general state of traceability in the produce industry, current initiatives to build whole-chain traceability and offered suggestions for what Congress and FDA could do with the issue in pending food safety legislation.

He asked the committee to support industry efforts in the Produce Traceability Initiative.
“We suggest that Congress should set the goal, not mandate the process,” he said.

Stenzel also said that produce industry traceability was not the problem in the salmonella investigation of last summer.

“The only problem was those tracebacks kept pointing to different farms,” he said.

Traceback worked, it just failed to confirm a false hypothesis on cause, he said.

DeLauro said the report confirms that traceability is inconsistent and unreliable.

“We were reminded just how important traceability is during last year’s salmonella outbreak originally linked to tomatoes,” she said.

“As we all know, the FDA later turned its attention away from tomatoes, ultimately determining that peppers from Mexico may have been the source of the outbreak — but not before the market for tomatoes shrank dramatically and tomato growers suffered.”

The traceability report from the Inspector General found that 59% of food facilities did not meet FDA’s requirements to maintain records about their sources, recipients, and transporters. The study conducted a traceability exercise and found it could trace 5 of 40 products through each stage of the food supply chain. For most of the other products, the report said investigators could identify the facilities that handled them.