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    Food Safety Modernization Act: What It Means for the Produce Traceability Initiative

    Hello, this is PMA public relations manager Meg Miller, and welcome back to our audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. In recent posts, Bob and I talked about how PMA plans to generally approach the Obama administration’s implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act. The Food and Drug Administration is now charged with translating the law into implementing regulations. In those posts, we talked about the different approach that PMA takes to government relations, striving to collaboratively work with government, to inform and educate their work so that we get the best governance possible.

    In this post we’re going to look at a specific component of FSMA – its mandates regarding traceability – and discuss what FSMA implementation may mean for the industry’s ongoing Produce Traceability Initiative.

    Bob, can you start by giving us the basic 411 – what does FSMA have to say about traceability?

    Meg, as we talked about in those earlier posts, the FSMA law is basically a blueprint. Congress provided general direction, and now it’s up to FDA to build regulations that define the specifics to implement that general direction. At this point in time, it’s not possible to say exactly what the implementing regulations will look like.

    The law’s traceability component provides a great example of what we know, and what we don’t know for now. For example, FSMA calls for better traceability of foods in general, and heightened recordkeeping for so-called “high risk” commodities. Well, it will be up to FDA to identify the commodities it deems to be “high risk” (though we can probably make some well educated guesses.) As for the recordkeeping system, the law also specifies that FDA will develop a system to “effectively and rapidly” trace and track food – it will be up to FDA to determine what such a system might look like. 

    The good news is, the law specified that those additional recordkeeping requirements must be science-based – Meg, you and our listeners know that PMA is always advocating for food safety decisions that are based on sound science, and that are prioritized based on the risk posed by a particular food.

    In terms of what else we know at this point, the law also provided FDA with some instructions to undertake before deciding what traceability and recordkeeping systems should look like.  The law requires that there be a produce-specific pilot program, and that FDA evaluates the costs and benefits of traceability solutions that are already available.

    I know some members have asked whether they should wait for those final implementing regulations before moving forward with implementing the Produce Traceability Initiative. What are your thoughts on that?

    There are several reasons why they shouldn’t wait. First, it’s going to take several years before implementing regulations are developed and go into effect. In fact, the law lays out some ambitious timelines that we think are going to be difficult to achieve. In the meantime, our industry simply can’t afford to wait that long to begin the work of building traceability systems that can minimize the scope and severity of recalls.  We know these recalls are expensive for our members.  We also know that we need to start restoring consumer confidence in the safety of our foods that has been battered by a series of high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years. PMA research indicates that consumers are not increasing consumption in part because of food safety concerns. 

    Second, as Ed Treacy – my colleague who directs PMA’s supply chain efficiency efforts including the PTI – recently wrote, if altruism doesn’t sufficiently motivate you, then consider that we’ve also gotten the legal community’s attention. These days, a foodborne illness outbreak is at the very least expensive and in some cases could well cost you your business, and that’s a price no one wants to pay. We need a better system now.

    I think it is also important to note that the buying side of our business is busy at work implementing traceability programs – and for all fresh foods, not just produce.  We have seen tremendous support for PTI from leading retail and foodservice buyers.  It is going to be important for suppliers to be able to demonstrate that they too are working to meet PTI timelines and have the systems in place to provide for sufficient traceback should the need arise. 

    As we talked about in the earlier posts about PMA’s approach to food safety government relations, our strategy is to inform and influence their work and collaborate with those responsible for governing us so that we get workable solutions to our needs. We’re planning to apply that strategy to outreaching to FDA on FSMA implementation.  The industry has already developed a working, efficient, cost-effective traceability solution in the Produce Traceability Initiative, we’re going to make the case early and often that FDA doesn’t need to look any further than that.

    Am I remembering correctly that the law specifically doesn’t require case-level tracking, which is a key component of the PTI?

    That’s right, but I wouldn’t read a whole lot into that right now; the law also didn’t prohibit case-level tracking, nor did it mandate item-level tracking. The industry steering committee that developed the PTI back in 2008 settled on case-level tracking after looking at all the available options, and determining case-level tracking to be the most efficient, effective way to achieve the goal of whole-chain traceability. We think FDA will come to the same conclusion after looking at the matter themselves.

    For example, we know from public comments that FDA official have made that the thing about traceback investigations that is giving them the most trouble is the lack of a common identifier as a food moves through the supply chain. They’ve also complained about the inconsistency of recordkeeping from company to company, and the amount of time it takes to access those records. The PTI addresses all of those concerns by establishing a common product identifier – the Global Trade Item Number or GTIN – and with standardized, computerized recordkeeping.

    Thanks, Bob. We’ll look forward to talking with you more about PMA’s work on FSMA implementation in future posts as that work gets underway. Let’s stop there for today, since I know we’re going to have Ed Treacy join us in the near future to give an update on the PTI.

    Listeners, if you’d like specifics on the Food Safety Modernization Act – including a paper that covers more of the details on what it means for the PTI – please check out the PMA Resources section on PMA’s website on the Government Relations page.  You’ll also want to check out our new online Food Safety Resource Center there. And for more information regarding the Produce Traceability Initiative, including tools to help you implement it within your company, visit the PTI website at www.producetraceability.org. Thanks for joining us…until next time!

    One Response to “Food Safety Modernization Act: What It Means for the Produce Traceability Initiative”

    1. Welcome to Traceability in the News | TRUETRAC Blog Says:

      [...] implementing the PTI, Dr. Bob says you should push ahead now. For the full interview, check out Food Safety Modernization Act: What It Means for the Produce Traceability Initiative on the Ask Dr. Bob [...]

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