The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Jan. 25 with Michael McCartney, managing principal with QLM Consulting, Sausalito, Calif. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

10:30 a.m. Tom Karst: What do you think the industry will be most surprised about with the implementation of the food safety modernization act?

Q&A | Michael McCartney, QLM Consulting

McCartney

10:30 a.m. Michael McCartney: I think the most surprising thing is that they will have to create a food defense plan. Up until now, they have only focused on growing the best quality fruits and vegetables imaginable. But now they have to think about things that they have never really thought through. For example, employees will have to all have badges and have employee background checks on them on pretty much a continuing basis.

10:38 a.m. Karst: Is there a trust level between the FDA and the industry right now?

10:39 a.m. McCartney: I think there is a high trust level. The industry has done a really good job of educating the FDA as to the specific unique characteristics of produce versus meat, seafood or other things. I think the industry has been very successful. I think there will be more discussion and more freedom in the regulation. Freedom is great, except when you allow 300 different buyers to interpret the same thing 300 different ways. You scratch your head and say, I wonder if we just couldn’t have a standardized check list.

10:49 a.m. Karst: One way or another, does the food safety law make a difference to the Produce Traceability Initiative?

10:49 a.m. McCartney: The requirement to track to case level was taken out of the law, so that may come back in some other form, but clearly that’s a major shift. PTI was always about traceability and supply chain efficiency and being able to minimize or have a focused recall if there is a food safety issue. So those concerns continue to be heightened and I would be surprised if any of the buyers are going to take their foot off the accelerator on PTI. But it is a buyer-driven approach rather than a mandated approach, although clearly FDA is headed in that direction.

10:53: a.m. Karst: You have done a lot of work with RFID. Do you think RFID will be used in association with traceability in the next five years?

10:54 a.m. McCartney: I think RFID on a pallet level makes a lot of sense because you don’t slow down loading or unloading of a truck. It just passes through the gateway and everything gets checked. I think you will see RFID on a pallet level more and also on an item level in the next three to five years. The cost of putting an RFID chip on an item now has been dramatically reduced.

11:06 a.m. Karst: You talk about imported food from countries like Mexico and China. That’s a big issue — standardizing food safety rules?

11:07 a.m. McCartney: It’s a huge issue. Right now, Mexico has a lot of tariffs placed on U.S. goods because the Mexican trucks were pulled from being able to deliver to the U.S. Now we have got an FDA law that says every country that wants to bring food into the U.S. has to mirror the same (rules) that the U.S. farms are having to do. That’s a huge trade issue and I think that is what is going to happen, I fear we will see trade slow down while the FDA, Customs and everyone else gets their documentation together. Clearly, my fear is that perishable items will get delayed at the border.