ANAHEIM, Calif. — Any
doubts about the vital role traceability will play in the global food chain
were quickly erased for the 160 people who attended the Institute of Food
Technologists Global Food Safety & Quality Conference June 10.
The conference, scheduled
in with IFT's 2009 Annual Meeting and Food Expo at the Anaheim Convention
Center, brought together industry and government representatives to explore
current and future challenges of traceability.
Sherri McGarry, acting
center emergency coordinator for the Office of Food Safety, Defense,
Communications and Emergency Response at the Food and Drug Administration's
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition started the session, saying
that produce is a prime culprit when it comes to food safety challenges.
Of the outbreaks FDA
studied from 1996 to 2008, produce was a cause in 77 cases compared to eggs
with 207, seafood with 114 and sprouts with 27.
She said if the FDA
appears to drag its feet before acting in the face of an outbreak, it's
because the agency follows a "very methodical process" that involves
physically reviewing records at each point in the distribution chain.
She seemed hopeful for
the future, with FDA opening offices in China, India and other foreign
locations, and she lauded the proposed Food Safety Enhancement Act and the
Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.
A good traceback program
is a must for protecting one's brand name, said Gale Prince, a retired
director of corporate regulatory affairs for Cincinnati-based The Kroger
The lack of a traceback
program can end up costing a company millions of dollars, even causing a
company's stock value to plummet.
As the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention creates programs like PulseNet USA, which
helps develop molecular "fingerprints" that detect food illness
patterns, "your challenge will get even bigger," he told those in
the food industry.
Stephen Arens, senior
director at GS1 U.S., Lawrenceville, N.J., said that of the technology now
available, including Universal Product Codes and GS1 DataBars, the new Data
Matrix can carry the most data, but it's had limited acceptance because
it's not fully compatible with many scanners.
Will Daniels, vice
president of quality, food safety and organic integrity at Natural
Selection Foods LLC, San Juan Bautista, reviewed Natural Selection's involvement
with the E. coli/spinach crisis, saying the incident prompted 30,000 news
stories during the last quarter of 2006.
He cited improved
traceability for the apparent increase in food safety incidents today and
endorsed the proposed Produce Traceability Initiative, though he said it's
"only one tool in the toolbox."
Brenda Lloyd, director of
equipment distribution and store model management at United Foodservice
Purchasing Co-op LLC, Louisville, Ky., said about 97% of Yum! Brands' more
than 500 suppliers now use GS1 standardized barcodes, and she expects radio
frequency identification to be commonplace within three to five years -
though she admitted to making the same prediction in 2005.
Purchasing Co-op is the supply chain management organization for Yum!
Other speakers at the
conference were Jim Dar, director of technical and manufacturing services
at Allen Flavors Inc., Edison, N.J.; Melissa Lalonde, program director at
Agri-Tracabilite Quebec Inc., Longueuil, Quebec; and Cindy Jiang, director
of worldwide quality, food safety and nutrition for McDonald's Corp., Oak
The conference was
sponsored by GS1 U.S.; Operations Technologies, Greenville, S.C.; Sensitech
Inc., Beverly, Mass.; SIRA Technologies, Pasadena; Trace Register, Seattle;
and YottaMark, Redwood City.