Sep 4, 2012
Is traceability ready to go in 2012?

In the wake of recalls and other safety concerns regarding fresh produce in recent years, the produce industry has felt a push from both consumers and the federal government for case-level traceability. One result was the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), which set this year as the benchmark for the implementation of industry-wide traceability, according to the PTI website.

Where things are

Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Produce Marketing Association, said most of the supply chain members he has talked to have initiated traceability plans and are compliant with PTI, or will be by the end of the year.

“From my perspective, things are where they should be at this point,” said. “The PTI was intended to give the supply chain the ability to recall produce quickly and efficiently. Produce has been in the spotlight lately.”

Participants seeing the most benefit are the ones who implemented early.

“They are seeing ways to make the system work for them and are using them to increase efficiencies and lower operating costs,” he said.

PTI was not intended for consumers, Treacy said. But some producers are taking the system to that level.

One of the producers who has seen the benefits of implementing early is Gary Wishnatzki, chief executive officer of Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla.

“We’ve been compliant with our strawberries and blueberries through our FreshQC system,” he said. “Our system took the case labeling system, that is PTI compliant, and went down to the consumer unit that we use for feedback directly from consumers.”

Wish Farm’s FreshQC system allows it to trace produce back to the field it was picked in and to the worker who picked it by the retail carton.

“People are very passionate about their fruit,” Wishnatzki said. “Now we get feedback that is very specific. It shows exactly where we need room for improvement.”

What do the growers think?

Treacy said he’s gotten a somewhat mixed response so far.

“We’re farmers selling produce,” he said. “It’s not that we’re not safe, but a lot of consumers think we’re more sophisticated than we are. Everybody sees the need for it and why we’re doing it. In the event of a recall, you’d see the benefit immediately.”

Wishnatzki said PTI is moving slowly due to a less than strong demand from the retailers for PTI compliance, but there are definite benefits to becoming compliant sooner rather than later.

“PTI is an insurance policy,” he said. “The benefit to all would be in the event of a recall it could potentially narrow the scope. If you can create an accountability system with item level traceability, you can get an immediate return on investment through improved quality and less rejections.”

The produce industry is not what most would call a “high-tech” industry, Treacy said. But PTI will significantly improve supply chain efficiencies.

“Software companies are now coming out with lower-cost solutions tailored to the smaller growers and shippers,” he said. “This will keep costs down. There are a lot more of the small guys than there are the big companies.

“Many growers in South American and Mexico have already implemented their own traceability and have been using it to create an advantage. Some of them may have a leg up on domestic growers, but that’s only for a short time now.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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