Produce growers and shippers aren’t waiting only on the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to food safety and traceability. Many are also waiting to see what their retail customers are going to require in terms of traceability labeling.

Leaders of the Produce Traceability Initiative set Dec. 31 as the deadline for buyers, receivers and handlers to meet the PTI milestone of being able to read and store data from labels on inbound cases. The PTI leaders encouraged growers, shippers and distributors to have PTI compliance in place before that deadline so it would be ready for retailers.

The retail community has not responded as enthusiastically as the PTI leadership council wanted.

“We need to hear from the retailers and wholesalers about when they will be ready to read and store the information,” said Dan Vache, co-chairman of the PTI’s technology working group and vice president of supply chain management for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington D.C.

“We need the retail end of the industry to publicly endorse the program.”

Calls seeking comment from the National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va., and the California Grocers Association, Sacramento, Calif., were not returned.

Vache said some retailers have embraced the traceability initiative, citing Publix Supermarkets Inc., Lakeland, Fla.; Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C.; and Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernadino, Calif., as examples of retailers who are on board.

“I think we will see a slow leadup until critical mass is reached,” Vache said. “When the top five (retailers) start using it, the rest will follow.”

Vache said he thinks up to 20% of all domestic fresh produce is now PTI-labeled. More companies are becoming compliant every month, he said.

Other companies are still testing the waters. A recent pilot project sponsored by Underwriters Laboratories involved LoBue Citrus, Associated Grocers, C.H. Robinson, FoodLogiQ and GS1 US. The project goal was to prove traceability of citrus from “grove to grocer,” according to the most recent PTI leadership newsletter.

With technology improvements and software solutions, they not only reached traceability goals, but they also discovered unexpected efficiencies and bottom-line improvements, PTI leadership council chairwoman and Food Lion president Cathy Green Burns said in the newsletter.