National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Will the Produce Traceability Initiative be the blueprint for future industry progress in traceability? Why or Why not?

That's the question I posed to the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group this week, and I'm curious to see the industry reaction to the question.

Another interesting question related to traceability on the discussion group was the topic of item-level traceability.

Are we seeing a trend toward per piece traceability or just case packs regarding PTI?

Nine comments so far on that question. Here are a few excerpts:

From a European consultant:

"Piece traceability becomes not a trend but is already a trend. costumers want to know everything from the food they are eating.This start at the producer and goes on until the store."

From a U.S. shipper: 

"We are a long way off from implementing PTI at a case level, both operationally and philosophically. With regard to consumers wanting to know who produced the food, then why is private label the biggest trend in grocery? Try to find out who produces the private label products at Trader Joes, or Aldi or Topco or Unified Grocers."

From a U.S. solutions provider:

"PTI is gaining serious momentum due to buyer involvement. However, FDA PTI will likely be PTI plus, as the PTI concepts will likely be forced to the item level by the FDA."

From a South African retailer:

"Do all customers want to know where all their product comes from? Well not necessarily, however, this quickly changes when there is an issue with the product - my experience has always been that the consumer takes a keen interest in where the product comes from when they are directly impacted (quality, in particular waste/rots accounts for 90% of complaints. Other major drivers of customer attention include food safety, and socio/political issues.)"

TK: So Just where is PTI right now? Is it adrift or making headway? The latest press release from the PTI website had news of buyer-centered implementation. From the release:

Acknowledging that significant progress has been made to reach the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) goals over the last four years, the PTI Leadership Council has agreed that a buyer-centered implementation focus is needed to ensure continued industry movement toward case-level traceability.

The Leadership Council, representing 32 companies in the produce industry, met recently in conjunction with the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Anaheim, California, and decided to:
• Create a new Buyer Working Group to expedite the completion of the remaining retail/foodservice implementation steps for PTI
• Keep the PTI governance structure intact with the Leadership Council meeting twice a year and working groups utilized as needed
• Maintain progress of supply-side PTI implementation
• Maintain industry education and communications via the PTI website and other channels as needed

Michael Agostini, Senior Director, Produce, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, accepted the position of Leadership Council co-chair as Cathy Green Burns resigned from this volunteer post due to increased work commitments as President of Food Lion.

“PTI is clearly better off today than it was four years ago when we started, and that is due in no small part to Cathy’s leadership,” said Agostini.  “We should celebrate our success as we have collectively moved our industry to embrace and understand traceability with 229 members participating in our working groups developing best practice and guidance documents in support of our milestones.”

Agostini is responsible for the merchandising of key produce categories at Wal-Mart’s US Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, which currently total more than 3,000 retail stores nationwide. He also leads Wal-Mart’s produce technology efforts, which seek to leverage technical solutions to create innovative processes for Wal-Mart’s produce supply chain.  A veteran of over 39 years in the produce and grocery industry, Agostini has recently served on the PMA Board of Directors and as Chair of the PMA Supply Chain Efficiencies Committee.


TK: Is this "buyer-centered implementation" actually making a difference? There hasn't been much publicity about the progress of the buyer working group.  What will FDA food safety rules mean to the PTI effort?

One of the frequently asked questions on the FDA's website relates to traceability.


Key Question:

PT.3.4 When will FDA begin developing recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods, as directed by FSMA?
Once the product tracing pilots are completed, and other data are gathered, the Agency will begin the development of a proposed rule.

PT.3.5 Will FDA expand requirements for recordkeeping requirements to foods that are not designated as high risk?

No. FSMA specifies that additional recordkeeping requirements developed under section 204 must apply only to high risk foods. FDA will be seeking input from stakeholders in considering whether to develop voluntary guidance for foods beyond those designated as high risk to enhance product tracing in the supply chain.

PT.3.6 Will FDA recommend certain product tracing technologies either for the pilot or for future regulations and potential guidance?

FDA does not plan to recommend specific software or systems at any of these stages. Rather, FDA will focus on the elements of a product tracing system that enable rapid and effective tracing of food products. Under section 204, FDA is not permitted to prescribe specific technologies to maintain records in the context of the additional recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods.


TK: What do readers think? Is PTI still on track? Is "buyer-centered implementation" actually working,  or merely bluster? What is the future of PTI as it relates to FDA recordkeeping requirements on high risk foods?