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Study: Establishing comprehensive tracing system

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has delivered to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a new technical study that recommends guidelines to establish a comprehensive product tracing system to track the movement of food products effectively from farm to point of sale or service.

The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition commissioned IFT, a non-profit scientific society focusing on the science of food, to conduct a study on traceability in the food system.

The study authors, including experts from academia, industry, and government, collected information from 58 food companies involved in produce, packaged consumer goods, processed ingredients, distribution, foodservice, retail, and animal feed.

The analysis included a review of diverse product tracing methods, practices in non-food industries, and standards and regulations pertaining to traceability worldwide.

In addition, IFT experts proposed changes in current systems and practices to help track the movement of food products from farm to table to ultimately protect public health.

Traceability of products is critical at all levels of the food system to protect public health by isolating products early to help contain a food incident. Additionally, product tracing can help contribute to the safety of the food system by identifying the cause of a problem, so that preventive controls can be put in place.

The recommendations from IFT and the expert panel include:
- Creation of a standard list of key data or information to be collected
- Standardization of formats for expressing the information
- Identification of the points along the supply chain, internally and between partners, where information needs to be captured
- Comprehensive record keeping that allows the linking of  information both internally and with partners
- Use of electronic systems for data transfer
- Inclusion of traceability as a requirement within audits
- Required training and education on what compliance entails

The report concludes that setting clear objectives for those in the food supply chain is the most appropriate approach to effective product tracing. Principally the system should be simple, user-friendly and globally accepted, as well as have the ability to leverage existing industry systems.

“The safety of the food supply requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort among all stakeholders throughout the system from farm to fork including growers, farm workers, packers, shippers, transporters, importers, wholesalers, retailers, government agencies, as well as consumers,” according the panel’s findings.

Through a concerted effort, product tracing can help protect the public health, boost consumer confidence, and manage costs faced by affected industries in the supply chain following a food safety incident.

To view the report, click here

Natalie Berkhout

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