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    The Produce Traceability Initiative’s vision for chainwide electronic traceability

    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.


    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.

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