One of the mandates of FSMA is that FDA work with industry and both assess and conduct pilot traceability programs to improve public health protection. PTI is currently working in conjunction with FDA for evaluating the fidelity and sufficiency of traceback data for these audits and tests, as well as functionality, as in the event of a product recall.
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Standardized and Interchangeable Platforms
Data tracking and collection will be imperative in the coming years. Data stand to become the next most used natural resource. Of the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day across all industries, only 1 percent is collected, analyzed, and used. There is a large opportunity for blockchain and other technologies to collect data and turn the resultant data mining and analysis into insights and quick actions. This capability will benefit traceability as well as other key aspects including the design, implementation, and oversight of produce safety systems.
Clearly, these digital platforms will be helpful in that they do allow investigators to trace data digitally all the way back to harvest, and beyond into crop management inputs, upon request. This is a significant advancement over the basic requirement of bi-directional one-step increments already in place within many traceability programs, and not just among the larger producers. A diversity of data capture and software solutions are available, but, unfortunately, not all inter-compatible.
It is predicted that these digital platforms will be able to link a valid food safety audit to each transaction. This will validate that there is a credible, basic snapshot verification of practices and all supporting required and additional documentation and records are in place from each participant in the supply chain.
Produce Marketing Association (PMA) recently led an effort to enable this process by developing the Trellis Data Framework for digitally sharing audit data. There are also alerts that can and are being set up to flag when there is a discrepancy or violation of time, temperature, humidity, etc. that will complement supply chain visibility applications/platforms in using blockchain technology to supplement food safety systems.
There are many examples of where blockchain technology is being used with PTI and the Trellis framework to record and share relevant audit data across the supply chain. Perhaps the most well-known of these examples is Walmart’s use of IBM’s blockchain technology to monitor and track the data of its fresh produce supply and distribution. Other instances include the Dole Food Co. working with Centricity, a grower-owned partner, to leverage the Trellis framework to connect audit data to the blockchain. These types of pilot programs and collaborative efforts help provide the produce industry with mechanisms to standardize data sharing for more efficient and timelier traceback.
As it stands, the too-common experience is that the “last mile” to the point of purchase or point of consumption is the weakest link in the currently complex and too often gap-plagued supply chain trace-forward-trace-back sequence. This means that the lack of lot numbers and clearly identifiable product information being recorded by buyers or distributors/wholesalers creates a broken link and barrier to establishing clear supply chain convergence in traceback investigations. This invariably slows down or stalls the investigation, limits uncovering the full scope of implicated product distribution, or results in failure to identify a minor, but widely distributed and consumed commodity or ingredient.
While blockchain technologies and traceability systems will help close this gap, traceability itself is unequivocally incapable to fundamentally improve the foundation of food safety programs, and the prevention and mitigation of contamination. Traceability programs, in reality, are the insurance coverage activated only for recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks.