In the past two years, pilot projects with four traceability vendors have been part of Tanimura & Antle’s systematic approach to developing a solution to benefit the Salinas, Calif., company and its trading partners while protecting consumers.

Of course, the unknown factor lurks: What will the Food and Drug Administration’s produce safety rule say?

Regardless what the answer is, Tanimura and Antle executives who head food safety and technology operations are confident they will be able to comply.

“The company chose to take a leadership role on traceability long ago,” said Tom Casas, vice president of information technology.

“Mike Antle is on the leadership committee for PTI (Produce Traceability Initiative) and I’m on a subcommittee. We have two other people on other subcommittees. The FDA rule is not that much of a factor because we are close to PTI and PTI is close to FDA.”

In addition to having key staff involved in the industry’s work on traceability issues, Tanimura & Antle’s internal policies and practices already provide traceability to the piece level, said Gurmail Mudahar, vice president for food safety research and development.

Mudahar also said the company operates in accordance with the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the California and Arizona agriculture department regulations.

“I don’t think there will be anything stronger coming out from FDA,” said Mudahar, who is on the LGMA board as well as the board for the Center for Produce Safety.

‘Doable’

Despite their existing practices, the company is still shopping for an outside vendor for its ultimate traceability solution.

“We know it’s doable,” Casas said. “We’re just not sure how much technical information to gather in the field.”

One option would be to add GPS features to the traceability plan to provide field location information. Another option could be to have information pass from the field to the office in real time vs. near-real time, Casas said. In the end, the company may go with multiple solutions, custom tailored to specific commodities or production lines.

In the meantime, they will continue to use their Kwik Track’r internal traceability system. It uses information printed on plastic tag bag closures.

Many resources available

Mudahar and Casas emphasized traceability does not have to be a problem for any size produce business. They acknowledged the company they work for has more resources than many, but they also pointed to numerous free resources available to help businesses develop and install food safety and traceability programs.

“There are lots of resources online,” Casas said, suggesting the websites of PTI, PMA, United Fresh Produce Association and state and federal government food and agriculture departments.

“Vendors are also lining up to help. If you’re not sure which one to use, just look at who participated at the PMA show this fall. I’m comfortable with any of them.”