I just might try this more often.  I asked the Linkedin Produce Industry Discussion Group this question today:

What would you ask Gary Fleming about traceability?
I have a Q and A with Gary later today. Any questions from the group that I should ask Gary Fleming of PMA about PTI?

TK: As it turned out, I had a good Fresh Talk chat with Gary, but I did not get the chance to ask him the flood of questions that Discussion Group members provided to me. As you can see, there were more than just questions, but also conversation and dialogue. Here are a few excerpts of the 14 comments posted since yesterday.  Join the group to see the full discussion:

Why not just label?

This is probably too simplistic a question but I have been speaking with members of the industry and everyone seems caught up in the logistical issues of the PTI. My question is this: If you have a databar on each produce item that is field specific does that alone not solve 90% of the issues if there is a food safety scare. If a consumer eats a (Name your produce item here) and they get sick and there was a label on the produce item that identifies the field where it was grown, you know the source without all the scanning in and out at all of the stops along the way. You pull that growers produce rather than an industry wide recall of all produce items of that type.

The case scanning/electronic records/RFIDs and the rest of it can come with time but in the here and now, why not focus on the ITEM. It only costs $0.06 per item for a databar label and those databar labels can be used for marketing purposes (like Harvestmark is already doing). Why not give small growers the option of JUST labeling the items and forget the rest of the tracing requirements for now?

Follow the European model?

Dear Tom, In Europe we see a discussion on the combination of intelligent traceability systems and technologies with trace and tell marketing applications. Once you create strong electronic systems for food safety assurance you might as well extend this architecture to tell the story behind the product and show the person who has grown our food. Is that type of thinking apparent in the US?

Will it serve the intended purpose?

The first comment brings a question to mind for Gary Fleming. According to the CDC regarding salmonella (chart available on request) in their "Timeline for Reporting of Cases", here is the flow:

PATIENT BECOMES ILL----Time to contact with health care system=1-5days
STOOL SAMPLE COLLECTED---Time to diagnose=1-3 days
SALMONELLA IDENTIFIED--Shipping time=0-7 days

Therefore, according to the CDC, the MINIMUM amount of time from when a person eats a contaminated food and when it is confirmed as part of an outbreak is 5 days and it could be up to 23. So not only where is the label on the item itself, but where is the carton? The answer in both cases is - gone. Perhaps on some fruit that is bought in multiples that has storage capability for over a week, on a rare occasion, the consumer MIGHT have an item in the refrigerator still. But if the percentage was higher than 5% I'd be surprised.

MY question for Gary, who I know and respect, although we disagree on some points would be --- What is the advantage of all the proposed cost and effort to put a GTIN on a carton when, in well over 90% of the time, by the time that number would need to be tracked, the carton is not available and cannot be directly identified?

Productivity drag?

In regards to step 6 of the PTI...

If there are five loads of strawberries to receive this morning and each has 2304 cases, scanning each inbound box will require 10,000 more “actions” than is currently required to efficiently receive the product. Multiply that times the 200 to 300 other inbound items and this would effectively bring productivity to a standstill.

In regards to step 7...
Many/most retail grocery warehouses utilize a voice activated system to improve efficiency of the selectors. It will take a major and expensive overhaul of that voice-activated software as well as the links back into the mainframe system to accommodate the "scan-out" requirement.

Since the act of circumventing either of these steps would eliminate the efficacy of the trackability proposal, are there plans to address these issues?

Also, what about the issue of items that, when stacked on a pallet, actually have internal boxes that show no exposed surface on the outside of the pallet? Won't it require pack changes, new box designs and redesigned packing equipment simply to accommodate the license plate number?

Come help!

I would ask Gary to come and set ours up!

TK: Lots of give and take about traceability right now, and the intelligence you will find on the issue in the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group is significant indeed. All the members of the group and others have a chance to participate in The Packer’s Webcast about traceability next week.