Washington, D.C., deadlines — in the tradition of balanced budgets — are made for breaking.

The Food and Drug Administration missed a three-month window President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group gave it on issuing what it calls “draft guidance” on steps the food industry can take to put in place product tracing systems.

Traceability systems are designed to improve the capacity of industry and government to find the source of foodborne illness.

While the Oct. 7 deadline has only just passed, the delay is very troubling, and given the silence out of D.C., we’re not optimistic the plan is coming soon.

This is a time when the industry needs affirmation from the FDA that the considerable investment in the Produce Traceability Initiative is well-placed.

This is not a time to question the agency’s follow-through on food safety issues.

We acknowledge the agency’s task is not easy. Congress has yet to pass a food safety bill that may better define FDA imperatives. Still, even without a food safety bill, the FDA must do enough to encourage real improvement in electronic food traceability while at the same time showing they are cognizant of the challenges of small producers.

The recent assignment of Leanne Skelton, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service Fresh Products Branch, to the FDA is an encouraging sign that the agency is willing to better learn about the complexities of food production and distribution.

The industry has done its part by initiating the Produce Traceability Initiative and already beginning to work through the first few milestones.

It is now up to the FDA to join the conversation and give the entire food industry a clearer idea of expectations.

Did The Packer get it right? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.