Being able to trace a product back to its exact source in a matter of hours has become standard in many industries in the US and the world. Look at any bag of chips, or cough drops, or vitamins, and you will see trace-back information. Though you might not be able to understand the coding, the company does. The produce industry is just starting to implement such “trace-back” and “trace-forward” tracking systems.
The root of this effort comes out of the:
- Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) of 1930
- U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002
- Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), formed in October 2010 and sponsored by Canadian Produce Marketing Association, GS1 US, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association, is on the front edge of developing a national trace-back system.
- The 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed, Jan 4, 2011, is also playing a part in moving trace-back forward.
- The Global Food Safety Initiative, formed May 2000 in Belgium (with a lot of American companies on its current board), has also being a force for more global standardization on food safety and trace-back.
Read more about the history of produce trace-back on UC Davis’ Dr. Trevor Suslow’s 2009 article at Food Safety Magazine. Another good article on trace-back in the same magazine is by Gary Fleming and United Fresh’s David Gombas, PhD.
In Hawai‘i, the produce industry is starting to consider how to best adopt trace-back technology. The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture has been experimenting with RFID (radio frequency identification) tags on boxes and pallets. Specific stick-on labels are also being used by some of the larger producers and wholesalers. Currently, trace-back is mostly optional, but if your buyer requires it, then you will need to do it to meet their requirements. Typically, trace-back is a “case” level marking, rather than an individual product marking (that is showing up more and more). Here is a simple version of the idea of trace-back to get you familiarized with the idea.
Working with the United Fresh Produce Association, in April 2011 we have came up with a more detailed view of what will be required as time goes on – certainly, things can change, but this is the basic framework for most farms: The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI): A Primer for Hawai‘i’s Small-Farm Operators.