• About Dr. Bob Whitaker
  • About this blog
  • @@post_notification_header
  • Archive for August 2008

    The Produce Traceability Initiative’s vision for chainwide electronic traceability

    Monday, August 25th, 2008

    Hi, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart. In the recording that follows, Gary Fleming mentions that the Produce Traceability Initiative will track three pieces of information about each case of produce through the supply chain. After this recording was made, the PTI amended its plans, and decided that only two pieces of information were needed: the GTIN, and a lot number. As you listen to this, keep that in mind. You can find more information at www.producetraceability.org.

     

     

     

    Hello, this is Kathy Means, PMA Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, and welcome back to PMA’s audio series, “Ask Dr. Bob Whitaker.” Joining us again today is PMA Vice President for Technology and Standards, Gary Fleming. This is the second of a three-part series being recorded with Gary about the Produce Traceability Initiative and its work to bring chain-wide, electronic traceability to the produce industry. Gary, thank you for joining us again.

    Last time we talked about why the produce industry needs to step up our traceability capability to be able to do chain-wide, electronic traceability capability. You mentioned that the Produce Traceability Initiative has a plan for making that happen, can you talk about that plan some more?

    Gary Fleming:

    Sure, Kathy. So, recognizing that our industry needed to be able to trace product more effectively, PMA joined forces in 2007 with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association to create the Produce Traceability Initiative. We’d been working to enhance traceability for many years, and now the goal of the initiative is to assist produce companies and those who buy and/or transport product to move toward a common standard to enhance whole-chain traceability. The initiative is guided by a steering committee of more than 50 produce retailers, wholesalers, distributors, packer-shippers and growers. This steering committee comes from across every link in the supply chain, to ensure that the solution they put forth will work for every industry member, regardless of business function and regardless of company size.

    Recognizing that each member of the supply chain should already have its own internal traceability system, the initiative calls on each industry member to adapt their systems to include, at a minimum, two common pieces of information that can then be tracked among them to provid the needed connectivity that we’re missing now. That connectivity will now allow every case of produce to be traced as it moves through each link in the supply chain. It really is what I’d call a brilliantly simple solution.
    Those common pieces of information to appear on each and every produce case are:

    (1) a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), which will identify who the “manufacturer” is (i.e., the owner of the brand that appears on the product case) and the type of product inside that case; and

    (2) the lot number specifically identifying the lot or batch from where the product came.

    Originally, the Initiative identified the inclusion of the Pack/Harvest or Batch date. However, due to the discussions recently held on August 20th at our last meeting, this date is now optional; as most growers and packers already have this date included as part of their Lot #.

    Each case will carry these two pieces of information on a label in both human-readable form and in a barcode. Each link in the supply chain will eventually be expected to scan that information and store it in their computer systems. Once each handler of the product is given these two pieces of information – the GTIN and lot number – they can use this information to search their own internal traceability systems to retrieve the necessary information about the path of that case, one step forward and one step back. Those two pieces of information are like a baton that gets passed between Olympic relay runners – we can then track the path of the baton from the start to the finish lines.

    The task force has just announced to industry some milestones and a timetable for moving the industry toward this vision of chain-wide, electronic traceability:

    • First, each “brand owner” must obtain their company prefix from GS1, if they have not already done so.
    • Second, each brand owner must assign 14-digit GTINs to their case configurations (and we’ve got some guidance on how to do that). Both the first and second milestones should be completed by March 1, 2009.
    • Then by 3rd quarter, 2009, each brand owner should provide their GTINs and corresponding data to their buyers, so that when the GTIN is used, the buyers will know what specifics are behind the number.
    • Fourth and fifth, packers will start labeling the GTIN and lot number on cases in both human-readable form and in a barcode by 3rd quarter, 2010.
    • Sixth, by 1st quarter, 2011, each link in the chain that touches a case of produce must have the systems and capability to read and store the GTIN and lot number from each case of produce that is received.
    • Seventh and finally, by 2012, each link in the chain must be able to read and store that information for every outbound case of produce

    Seven relatively simple steps – the hardest part will be to modify existing business practices to capture this information and then the modification of existing programs and databases to store this information. There will be lots of help along the way to help companies make each step happen – but I’ll stop there, because we’re going to talk about those resources next time.

    Kathy:

    Thank you, Gary, for explaining the initiative’s vision, and timetable, for chain-wide electronic traceability. It certainly sounds reasonable, as you’d expect from a plan that was developed by companies from every spectrum of the supply chain. If anything, I would be concerned that regulators and legislators would expect us to be able to get this work done even faster than the group is proposing, because public health is at stake. They take that very seriously, as do we all.

    Please join Gary and me next time, when he will talk about what help is available to industry members to assist them in doing their part to make this level of traceability possible. In the meantime, to find out more about PMA’s and the Produce Traceability Initiative’s work, visit PMA’s Web site at www.pma.com. Go to the “Member Resources” section, then to Technology and Standards, then to Traceability. (For those of you reading this transcript, the link is: http://www.pma.com/cig/tech/traceability.cfm.)

    Goodbye for now.

    COOL Summary

    Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart and welcome back to PMA’s audio series, “Ask Dr. Bob Whitaker.” With us today is PMA’s government relations consultant, Tom O’Brien of O’Brien DC, from Washington, D.C. Tom is here to talk about country of origin labeling – also known as COOL. In particular, he’s here to talk about the brand new interim final rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding COOL for produce and other commodities. Tom, I have two questions for you – first, why is this an interim final rule, and what does that mean? And second, what is the average PMA member going to want to know about what’s in that interim final rule, and what they need to be able to do when it goes into effect on Sept. 30?

    Tom O’Brien:
    To answer your first question, it’s an interim final rule because the agency’s rulemaking process isn’t over yet. The term “interim” is not that important – what matters is that these rules become law on September 30, and in the meantime that USDA wants to hear what they got wrong and right, and will be accepting comments from us.

    And to your second question, here are the basic highlights of the rules on COOL:

    • What commodities does it apply to? COOL applies to fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables – the same foods that are covered by the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. It applies as well to peanuts, macadamias, pecans and ginseng, and various meats.
    • What does origin mean? For produce, it’s simply where the product is grown.
    • What commodities are excluded? Processed foods are excluded, and USDA has a very broad definition of “processed.” For example:
    • Any two or more substantial commodities combined in a single package is considered processed, and therefore COOL does not apply. A single commodity that is chopped, such as romaine, would need to be labeled, because it is still a single commodity and therefore would have to have COOL information at retail. USDA’s rules take the position that different varieties of a commodity such as red and green leaf lettuce combined together remain a single commodity that must provide the COOL information.
    • But if you combine two or more substantial commodities combined in a single package is considered “processed,” and therefore COOL does not apply. A bagged salad mix of lettuce and carrots, or even a mix of chopped lettuce with dressing does not have to have COOL information.
    • Processing can take many forms beyond just the combination of several commodities. While chopping is insufficient as I mentioned to make a commodity “processed”, roasting or other processing does remove the COOL obligation, because roasting is a significant process. On the other hand, apple slices that have been treated to prevent browning must be labeled, because it’s still all apples and the anti-browning treatment addition is minor.
    • How are the foods to be marked, those that have to have COOL? Fortunately, we have a lot of latitude here, as long as the information gets to consumers – it’s up to us whether to use a sticker, a band, a twist tie, or a label or sign. It is perfectly acceptable to provide the origin information by use of a shipping carton marked with COOL in a display. If you are using a sticker, it doesn’t need to be on every item, just on a majority. Labels that denote the state, region or locality of the produce are satisfactory – for example, “Washington apples” or “Florida Fresh” – are sufficient. This applies to non-U.S. regions as well.
    • What about recordkeeping? The key question here is whether the product is pre-labeled. That question determines whether or not there is an obligation to provide origin information. If produce carries the information on its package or a sticker, then no other recordkeeping of the origin is required as that labeled product travels through the supply chain. However, if it not prelabeled, if instead is going to have a store sign created at retail, then the person responsible for initially labeling the product must keep records to prove the truthfulness of the claim, and all others must be able to trace the product back to the originator of the claim.
    • If the commodity is not pre-labeled, such as a bulk product, then the COOL information must travel with the product so that the retailer can provide the information to consumers, often by producing a sign. Retailers must retain the origin information ONLY for those items that are not pre-labeled. These records – and they can be bills of lading or other information, and they can be electronic or paper – can be kept anywhere; the retailer is not required to maintain the records at the store.
    • What are the penalties for failing to comply? USDA will only impose penalties on retailers if their actions rise to the level of “bad faith”, which it defines as failing to comply after a warning with 30 days to reply. The retailer will first be notified by USDA, then have a chance to correct the problem. Only then can USDA impose fines, and the maximum fine is $1,000 per violation.
    • USDA has said, however, that it will spend the first six months on outreach and education about the rules, and will not issue any fines during that time.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Tom, for that summary. We know COOL is a hot topic with PMA members, as more than 850 sites registered for a Webinar that we held on the rule on Aug. 6.

    Our listeners should know that PMA has several resources available to help them implement COOL by the Sept. 30 deadline.

    • If you missed the Aug. 6 Webinar, you can listen to a recording of it free of charge, by visiting the COOL resource page at PMA’s Web site. Go to www.pma.com, then to Issues, then to the Country of Origin Labeling page. (Reading this transcript? Go to http://www.pma.com/issues/labeling.cfm.) That’s also where you’ll find USDA’s answers to the questions posed by your peers during the webinar.
    • You will also find COOL best practices on that page that were developed by a joint task force of PMA and Western Growers members from across the entire supply chain.
    • And finally, we will host a workshop at our Fresh Summit Convention & Exposition in October, by that time we will have lots of feedback on how compliance is going to share with members. For more information about that conference, visit www.pma.com/freshsummit.

    We know this is an important topic for our members, and we’re working hard to get you the information you need to make compliance as easy as it can be for you.

    Thanks to Tom, very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

    Why paper traceability isn’t good enough

    Monday, August 18th, 2008

    Hi, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart. In the recording that follows, Gary Fleming mentions that the Produce Traceability Initiative will track three pieces of information about each case of produce through the supply chain. After this recording was made, the PTI amended its plans, and decided that only two pieces of information were needed: the GTIN, and a lot number. As you listen to this, keep that in mind. You can find more information at www.producetraceability.org.

     

    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart and welcome back to PMA’s audio series, “Ask Dr. Bob Whitaker.” Joining us today is PMA Vice President for Technology and Standards, Gary Fleming. In fact, Gary will be joining us for the next several recordings, so that we can talk in depth about the Produce Traceability Initiative and its work to bring chain-wide, electronic traceability to the produce industry. Gary, thank you for being here.

    Before I ask you to talk about the initiative’s work, let’s talk about the industry’s current traceability capability. Everyone should already be able to trace product one step forward, and one step back, on paper – that was required by a bioterrorism law in 2002. Gary, please tell our listeners why being able to trace product on paper isn’t good enough, why we need to do more.

    Gary Fleming:

    Thanks, Julia, and hello to our listeners.

    You’re right, most in our industry already have basic traceability capability. As you noted, the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires every food company to be able to trace its products back one step, and forward one step. Everyone in our industry should be able to do this right now. And if you can’t, then you should know that you can be brought up on federal charges for failing to comply with the bioterrorism act.

    However, recent foodborne illness outbreaks have demonstrated that we need to be able to do better. We should want to do better first and foremost to better protect public health, to prevent further illness and potentially to even save lives – but doing it better can also help limit our losses in the event product does have to be recalled.

    You know, there was some talk during the recent Salmonella saintpaul foodborne illness outbreak that the federal government’s investigation was slowed down because the produce industry couldn’t trace back its product. That’s not entirely true, for the most part we could trace back product. (And I’m sure the folks who couldn’t will be dealt with accordingly by federal investigators.)

    Part of the problem was that the investigation was looking for the wrong product – but part of the problem was also that our industry members gave federal investigators a hodge podge of records they had to sift through to try to find a trail. They gave them paper records – that required investigators to sift through thousands of pages. And every company’s record keeping system was different, tracking different pieces of information, which added yet another level of complexity for the investigators. Right now, every member of the produce industry has their own, individual proprietary solution for tracing product one step forward, one step back. The information stored and method used can vary company by company. Multiply that times all the different companies that, say, handle tomatoes or even peppers, and you can imagine how difficult a job an investigative team would have.

    When lives – and livelihoods – may be at stake, that simply isn’t good enough. Consumers demand better, and regulators and legislators are demanding better. Keeping those records electronically can certainly help speed investigators’ traceback – and keeping records electronically that have common elements of information in them will speed it even more. Our industry has a lot at stake, it is in our best interests to take our traceability capability to the next level – or we may end up being required to do it by people who don’t understand our business.

    The Produce Traceability Initiative was founded in 2007 to bring some commonality to these systems – to weave through that common thread, if you will, by requiring three pieces of common information to follow every carton of produce through the supply chain. But I’ll stop there, because I understand we are going to talk more about those three pieces of information next time.

    Julia:

    Thank you, Gary, for that explanation of why our industry needs to take traceability to the next level – to chain-wide traceability, and electronic traceability. To find out more about PMA’s and the Produce Traceability Initiative’s work, visit PMA’s Web site at www.pma.com. Go to the “Member Resources” section, then to Technology and Standards, then to Traceability. (For those of you reading this transcript, the link is: http://www.pma.com/cig/tech/traceability.cfm.)

    To our listeners, please join us next time, when I will talk to Gary about the solution that the Produce Traceability Initiative has developed to help us achieve that vision of chain-wide, electronic traceability – and where our listeners can get help to achieve their part. Until next time…!

     
  • carking