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A first-ever status report on companies’ implementation progress, an update on 18 pilot projects now under way, new best practices to assist with implementation and positive comments from FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor – all were featured at the May 2 meeting of the Produce Traceability Initiative’s Leadership Council in New Orleans.
The recently completed survey of Leadership Council member companies found that 79 percent of those companies are at an overall state of readiness. Specifically, 94 percent of grower/packer/shipper members, 82 percent of retailer members, 71 percent of wholesaler/broker members and 70 percent of foodservice members report that they are on track to achieve all PTI milestones by the target completion date of 2012. Further, no systemic issues to implementing the PTI were identified by council members, and working groups are already addressing the implementation challenges that members identified.
Council members received updates on activities of the PTI’s various working groups, including a report on 18 pilot projects underway. Pilot tests are being conducted involving most major produce commodities, including apples, bananas, berries, citrus, tomatoes, celery, radishes, peppers, leafy greens, melons, potatoes, onions, sweet corn and table grapes. Twenty-four companies, including but not limited to council members, are participating in the pilot projects. Projects will identify and document best practices, implementation costs and benefits, and the time required to execute a complete trace.
“The strong seller and buyer participation in the pilot projects reinforces the commitment to advancing PTI in our industry,” said Leadership Council chairwoman Cathy Green Burns, president of Food Lion. “We look forward to sharing the results of the pilots in the near future, and to continuing to provide valuable information to the industry in support of PTI implementation.”
Working groups also reported that several new best practices had been finalized and would be posted to the PTI website’s resources section soon: updated best practices on case labeling and hybrid pallet labeling, and an applet for generating voice-pick codes.
Presenting by telephone for a portion of the meeting, FDA’s Taylor clearly signaled his agency’s interest in collaborating with industry as FDA begins implementing the new Food Safety Modernization Act and its traceability component.
“We are keenly aware that industry has been at the forefront of understanding traceability, and in order to make progress we know we are going to need to build on and embrace the work that industry has done,” Taylor said. When informed that some industry members are delaying implementing PTI until FDA regulations are finalized, Taylor responded, “When real progress is being made, we encourage that and we don’t want our process to be an obstacle.”
When asked what industries the PTI should model itself against, FDA Senior Advisor for Outbreak Response Sherri McGarry cited the produce industry as the traceability leaders in the food industry.
The meeting was the fourth regular meeting of the council, and the second face-to-face meeting, since the group was formed in August 2010 to provide greater supply chain participation in directing PTI activities.
“I am optimistic about the progress that has been made, we’ve clearly got a lot of momentum,” said Doug Grant of the Oppenheimer Group, who was approved as the council’s new co-chairman. “We’re gaining speed with new best practices, pilot projects and other working group efforts getting underway now. And we’re very cognizant of the importance of having an effective solution that keeps costs and complexity to a minimum.”
Industry members are encouraged to visit the official PTI website at www.producetraceability.org or assistance and for staff contact information.
Meanwhile, as the FDA seeks greater assurance of a safe food supply with the regulation of imported products under the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, the produce industry is taking an active role working with FDA to meet this goal.
PMA has urged the FDA to build upon the existing foundation and create a structure that will meet FDA’s legal requirements. PMA’s comments also suggested that regulations incorporate existing industry practices – including those used outside of the United States –ensuring the quality and safety that consumers demand.
The FDA sought comments on the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, Voluntary Qualified Imported Program, authority for FDA to require import certifications from certain countries and accreditation of third-party auditors under FSMA. PMA also offered comments on laboratory accreditation and the critical role it plays in facilitating the entry of safe produce into the United States.
PMA urged the FDA to prioritize having third-party certification rules in place at the earliest possible time, noting that implementing it as quickly as possible will provide immediate benefits to industry and FDA.
“These regulations must accommodate the seasonal nature and perishability of fresh fruits and vegetables with the ease and speed necessary to maintain product quality,” said Kathy Means, PMA’s VP of government relations and public affairs. “They must accomplish U.S. food safety goals without prompting retaliation from our trading partners that would jeopardize export markets, and must be flexible enough to be used by different types and sizes of businesses with varying levels of sophistication and technology use.”
Founded in 1949, Produce Marketing Association is the leading trade association representing nearly 3,000 companies from every segment of the global produce and floral supply chain. United Fresh Produce Association is the pre-eminent trade association for the produce industry in managing critical public policy issues; shaping legislative and regulatory action; providing scientific and technical leadership in food safety, quality assurance, nutrition and health; and developing educational programs and business opportunities for members to better meet consumer needs for increased consumption of fresh produce.