With the reach of the romaine E. coli outbreak spanning more than half the country and the number of those affected nearing one of the highest counts seen by our nation (with 172 recorded cases in 32 different states, and one death), it is clear that something must be done to improve how products are handled, tracked, and traced in the food industry. Though the CDC announced that it is safe to eat romaine lettuce again, the cause of the initial outbreak remains a mystery. This fact can be both frustrating and frightening as the recent efforts of the FDA and CDC highlight just how difficult it can be to pinpoint and eradicate hazards in the U.S. food network.
Product Traceability Initiative
Though FSMA has vastly improved the standard to which the food industry addresses and prevents potential threats since its passing in 2011, perhaps it is time to focus on how to handle the scenarios in which those preventive controls fail. As the nation moves forward from the past few months of uncertainty, it may be that the problem and the solution can be found in traceback. The Product Traceability Initiative (PTI) is the latest standard of the industry relating to produce and product tracking at all stages of the distribution process. Its vision begins with a 7-step implementation plan that aids in creating “case-level traceability in the food industry,” with the eventual goal of creating an entirely electronic database that traces the path of a product as it is transported and distributed. Though compliance with PTI has been voluntary since its approval in 2007, it is possible that the recent E. coli outbreak will give lawmakers cause to reconsider the non-compulsory nature of the initiative.
Taking Food Safety to the Cloud
Regardless of whether industry-wide compliance with PTI is in the country’s future, it may not be enough. It may be time to advocate for assurance that all members of the food industry are exploring traceability options that would work within their business or farm while meaningfully moving towards a more streamlined traceback solution for the country. If you are are not already exploring traceability options, now is the time to do so. It is imperative that those involved in the food industry take traceback seriously in the interest of preventing future outbreaks from reaching the scale that romaine/E. Coli did this year. Start researching what food safety management platforms make sense for your organization. CompWALK.farm might be a good fit for small-medium size farms just getting started with food safety and traceability. The system provides a number of resources and templates to walk you through the process of compliance.
For larger operations, CompWALK for food safety let’s you manage multiple locations and users with custom inspections and corrective action tracking. Explore opportunities to integrate barcode systems with your food safety management platform so that your processes are not disjointed.