Industry Blog: Food (Safety) Fight
By: Richard Raymond
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Richard Raymond: Food Traceability


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(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

The subject of food traceability just keeps coming back up again and again. It was an issue in the Salmonella contaminated tomatoes and/or peppers, and it is a discussion whenever bioterrorism talks ensue. It is there in Country of Origin Labeling debates and it fuels the fires for Animal Id systems.


For meat, and for ground beef specifically, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) continues to take heat at times for "not conducting trace back activities to the source" of E coli 0157:H7. Yet in 2007 there were at least two recalls that were traced back to the slaughter facility, and one of those facilities is still shuttered.


Since 2003, FSIS has used a program called the System for Tracking E coli 0157:H7 Positive Suppliers (STEPS) as its tracking mechanism for this pathogen. But this is only through FSIS or AMS school lunch program testing.

FSIS is currently analyzing data collected last summer on this issue. See . The agency is also looking into using other sources of information to significantly supplement the data base.


FSIS will be able to more easily capture information when the new Public Health Information System (PHIS) of the future is up and running. But until then, and even after then, the take home message today in this blog is that many retail operations must do a better job of record keeping on sources for their ground beef products. Many investigations are stopped cold in their tracks by lack of documentation, and many recalls are expanded to very large numbers for the very same lack of documentation.


As FSIS's critics often state, you need to get to the source to stop the problem, not the grinder. And as FSIS often states, if things don't change for the better, they will pursue mechanisms to change behavior.


Can we all play nice together and solve this problem?


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