“Luckily, fresh produce hasn’t suffered notable Listeria-related outbreaks recently, but FDA’s swabathons, the increased use of whole genome sequencing, and the desire for continuous improvement make the United Fresh-PMA Listeria workshops popular events,” Dr. McEntire continues. “We’ll hold several of them in 2019, in Atlanta, Ga., Yakima, Wash., and the Midwest.”
Dr. McEntire says that most United Fresh Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) trainings have transitioned into “maintenance mode,” and emphasis has shifted to helping members understand how the various rules will be enforced. “The comment period is open for two FSMA guidance documents of key interest to the fresh produce industry, one related to the Produce Safety Rule, and the other explaining how Preventive Controls applies to fresh-cut facilities,” she notes. “The Food Safety & Technology Council, one of United Fresh’s expert advisory councils, is actively drafting comments, and FDA has offered to give webinars to our members on these topics.”
In addition to United Fresh’s Food Safety & Technology Council that provides guidance for the organization’s food safety efforts, there’s the Finance & Business Management Council, Government Relations Council, Produce Marketing & Merchandising Council, and Supply Chain Logistics Council, Dr. McEntire elaborates.
To help build an enlightened food safety community, any employee of a United Fresh member company can receive up-to-date food safety information by joining the Food Safety Community email listserv. Summarized, at-a-glance information authored by Dr. McEntire and Emily Griep, PhD, manager of food safety for United Fresh, is sent to subscribers approximately every two weeks.
“Most of our members’ products lack a kill step, so we’re also focused on improving food safety practices throughout the supply chain, evaluating new technologies, and evaluating the diversity of customer requirements, especially when it comes to product testing and audit requirements,” Dr. McEntire adds.
“Sponsored by United Fresh, PMA, GS1 US, and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, PTI is designed to help the industry maximize the effectiveness of current traceback procedures, while developing a standardized industry approach to enhance the speed and efficiency of traceability systems for the future,” she explains.
Both internal and external traceability programs are needed in order to effectively track and trace product up and down the supply chain, achieving whole-chain traceability, Dr. McEntire relates. “Companies use internal traceability processes within their own span of operations to track/trace product,” she explains. “External traceability involves the data exchange and business processes that take place between trading partners to track/trace product.” At present, most companies have internal traceability programs, but not external traceability programs, Dr. McEntire says.
To that end, the PTI uses a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) to achieve external traceability. “A GTIN number includes a GS1 company prefix that can be readily incorporated into a Universal Product Code barcode and works with radio-frequency identification or human readable codes,” Dr. McEntire explains. “It also includes a unique item reference number.”
“The ‘GTIN Assignment Strategy’ has been created specifically for helping suppliers ensure consistency when assigning GTINs to the cases by using standard product attributes to organize and categorize products for GTIN assignment,” Dr. McEntire continues. “Similarly, to ensure that one label can be used for the entire industry, a standard case label template has also been created as a result of the GTIN Produce Pilot conducted in the fall of 2006. The PTI Action Plan, established in 2008, outlines the steps for achieving traceability at the case level.”
PTI is a voluntary effort that works effectively when all members of the supply chain commit to tracking PTI-labeled cases, Dr. McEntire points out. “More than half of produce cases are PTI labeled,” she says. “But unfortunately, it’s rare that later points in the supply chain scan the labels. That renders the labels useless, given that tracebacks begin at the point of sale or point of service where important data aren’t captured.”
Produce Safety Innovations Challenge
In January, the Center for Produce Safety (CPS), Woodland, Calif., announced a dynamic new grant program with the goal of improving the safety of fresh products.