The produce industry, of course, has not been waiting for FDA and has launched a number of initiatives to tackle the traceability conundrum. For example, following a series of nationwide E. coli outbreaks in 2006 from produce, California farmers and industry groups established the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). LGMA provides a mechanism for verifying that farmers follow established food safety practices for lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens. Member companies sell and ship produce only from farmers who comply with LGMA-accepted food safety practices, including mandatory USDA audits and state inspections.
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The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), sponsored by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, GS1 US, the Produce Marketing Association, and the United Fresh Produce Association, aims to help drive voluntary whole-chain traceability by using GS1 protocols to identify products, locations, and transactions, and using advanced electronic data management standards, such as blockchain technology.
PTI estimates that about 60 percent of produce cases currently carry PTI labels with GS1-issued company prefixes and 14-digit Global Trade Item Numbers in machine-readable barcodes. (Some of the shipments of contaminated Yuma romaine lettuce did carry barcodes, but these apparently were not scanned through the distribution system.)
Meanwhile, FDA is providing $32.5 million in funding to 46 state agriculture departments to help implement the FSMA produce safety rule. The grants are for education and outreach programming and for compliance and enforcement. As part of the effort, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has developed a Model Produce Safety Implementation Framework for states to consider.
“When you consider how much fresh produce is consumed every day, much without any type of kill step, one has to applaud the produce industry in keeping the vast amount of produce really safe,” says Dr. Acheson.
But he urges vigilance. “We all need to take lessons from all the outbreaks regardless of the implicated source and work together to continue to improve traceability, to limit the impact of any contamination at any point in the chain, to protect consumers, and protect the industry as a whole,” Dr. Acheson says.