Written by Thomas Skernivitz | October 1, 2020
Food traceability companies will remember the summer of 2020 for more than the coronavirus and lockdowns.
On July 13, the FDA announced its new approach to food safety, the goal of which is to bend the curve of foodborne illness in the U.S. by reducing the number of illnesses. The organization had planned to announce the initiative in March but was forced to turn its attention to addressing the public health emergency posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New Era of Smarter Food Safety leverages technology and other tools to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system. The blueprint seeks out simpler, more effective, and modern approaches and processes.
Tasked with educating growers on the FDA program and its significance are food traceability companies such as iFoodDecisionSciences (iFoodDS), rfxcel, and SafeTraces.
“Produce growers, packers, and shippers need to meet and exceed the performance of conventional packaging and requirements of the initiative,” Ulrike Hodges, the COO of SafeTraces, says. “As consumers and regulators demand higher food safety standards and visibility into supply chain practices, on-product traceability can provide them and their customers much needed assurance of the safety and authenticity of food products.”
The FDA is focusing on four core elements that it believes could significantly reduce foodborne illness in the country: tech-enabled traceability; smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response; new business models and retail modernization; and food safety culture.
“Industry- and regulator-led efforts and standardization will set the rules of the road for the key data elements (KDEs) and critical tracking events (CTEs) that must be captured,” John McPherson, Director of Global Solutions with rfxcel, says. “For the growers/harvesters, we think that data-capture innovations will allow field-level/harvest data to be leveraged for traceability, data analytics, and many other business uses. Growers who adopt digital strategies today will be not just ahead — they will be the ones that survive. “There will be a new era of food safety.”
THE NEED FOR SPEED
Every shipper’s traceability data should be in the cloud, according to iFoodDS Vice President Minos Athanassiadis.
“The PTI (Produce Traceability Initiative) standard of ‘one up one back’ traceability is too slow to respond to future outbreaks because the fresh fruit supply chain is complex, and the traceability data is locked up in data silos within each organization across the supply chain,” Athanassiadis says.
Hodges concurs: “The lack of complete, rapid, and accurate traceability systems significantly impedes the speediness and effectiveness of traceback investigations during outbreaks and recalls. They also fail to effectively support global sustainability initiatives and prevent food fraud, undermining the public’s faith in global and even domestic food supply chains and creating financial harm to growers and manufacturers.”
Growers should realize that digital supply chains and the benefits they offer are within their reach, McPherson says. New innovations in product labeling, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile, radio frequency identification (RFID), and Bluetooth are being built to scale at the levels that growers work in. “Such innovations mean that the cost and implementation are easier to see as an investment, not as an expense,” McPherson says.
iFoodDS is working with packer/shippers to not just be PTI case-labeling compliant but also be PTI compliant in tracking their pallet shipments with Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) pallet tags and submitting advance ship notices (ASNs) to their customers for instantaneous trace forward.
“We are also encouraging the grocery retailers to make the most of our industry’s investments in PTI traceability by tracking cases at the DC (distribution center) and on to the store level,” Athanassiadis says.
Growers continue to make strides in digitizing their supply chains, McPherson says, but they need to continue evolving their operations to meet new demands of the marketplace. This includes complying with the PTI as well as potential new requirements from the FDA under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
“The FDA has been candid about wanting supply chains to be more digital and transparent, and growers will need to consider breaking down supply chain data from current silos and having a unified approach to that data,” McPherson says.
Adds Hodges: “Without incorporating end-to-end traceability back to the source in the produce industry, produce growers, packers, and shippers fail to meet consumers’ needs for food transparency, legal requirements, and potentially increase their risk in the event of an outbreak or recall.”
iFoodDS (Kenmore, WA) — The company on May 6 acquired Trimble’s food traceability and quality inspection business, HarvestMark. “We now provide growers and shippers with comprehensive real-time food safety records along with the state-of-the-art traceability,” Athanassiadis says. “This means that, for the first time, we’re linking real-time food safety information, not annual or quarterly audits, with every case of fruit going out the door, to be able to instantaneously access and respond to food safety and trace requests.”
rfxcel (Reno, NV) — The company boasts products that growers can use to digitize — from mobile and web to sensor/IoT tech — all run from the cloud, McPherson says. “We have deep experience creating a single-source of truth for every item in a supply chain, then sharing that data with trading partners to be compliant with current and future needs, such as blockchain integration,” he says. “Our experience working with federal regulatory bodies is another big advantage we bring to our customers.”
SafeTraces (Pleasanton, CA) — The company’s miniDART technology speaks to the problem of packaging that bears conventional barcodes and other digital identifiers being removed or damaged during normal supply chain transactions. The product uses unique edible, invisible DNA-based tags (FDA-GRAS) that are applied directly to the fruit during normal processing and can be read by a downstream purchaser with a rapid, inexpensive, onsite test to verify product source and authenticity in 25 minutes.