Food safety conference focuses on traceability

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Published on 06/12/2009 01:39pm By Tom Burfield


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 Co.

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.

United Foodservice Purchasing Co-op is the supply chain management organization for Yum! Brands Inc.

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 Brook, Ill.

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.


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