What is Traceability and How is it Implemented in the US?
Prior to determining the processes for developing traceability for food supply systems, a clear perception about the definition of traceability will guide us in understanding the significance of this concept.
Traceability is a record keeping system that allows the tracking down not only of the food source but also of its history, the application processes used and the methods of delivery, from the retailer back to the farm, or a specific key point where the food being retailed was processed, grown or produced.
However, the systems developed by food producers vary and no particular standards are being observed, especially for products that were grown in large geographical areas. Nonetheless, traceability is a system that allows consumers to gain more confidence in the quality and safety of the food being bought for consumption, that is often lacking due to the rising concerns about unlabeled genetically modified foods and threats of bioterrorism.
Brief Overview of the Traceability System
New technologies are making it possible to allow the integration of specific data into a bar code. Hence, an apple bought from the grocery store can be traced back to the box, the pallet, the delivery truck and back to the supplier where the apple was produced.
In very much the same way, a package of ground beef is appended with bar codes that carry not only its price but also the packinghouse that received the beef from the slaughterhouse. The packinghouse will now refer to its record of slaughterhouse boxes from where the beef was retrieved for grinding and packing processes. Once the slaughterhouse is identified, the name of the livestock supplier who delivered and claimed the contents of the particular meat box from the slaughter unit, can be established by checking their records. The supplier’s identity now embodies all other attributes of the product, i.e. geographic location of the farm and the farming methods used, whether organic or inorganic.
The system is not yet mandated for implementation by the federal government, but the widespread voluntary initiatives among food producers are slowly creating some confusion through their use of different approaches and information.
Governmental Regulations about the Systems for Traceability
There are two agencies largely involved in overseeing food supply: the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The USDA is still hesitant when imposing mandatory regulations regarding the implementation of standards for developing traceability. The concern of this department is that in cases where an efficient system is already existing, it may be rendered inefficient by confining the trace system to a non-flexible standard.
The FDA on the other hand employed the services of the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) to come up with its recommendations for a standard system of implementing traceability for the food supply chain.