Fresh Food

A Template for Better Traceability of Foodborne Illness

Standardized data reporting helps trace tainted lettuce faster
Photograph: Shutterstock

Working from a standardized data reporting template can help businesses and regulators more quickly trace outbreaks of foodborne illness, three new pilot projects focused on leafy-green traceability find.

The pilot projects, undertaken by six leading industry organizations in response to a request from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sought to pinpoint hangups and gaps in data reporting that can delay efforts to trace a foodborne-illness outbreak to its source. A standardized template for capturing data from producers, suppliers and stores can be a vital tool in streamlining and expediting tracing efforts, the organizations found.

Participating organizations were FMI, the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh), the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) and standards organization GS1 US. The groups completed their work from July through October of this year, tracing actual consumer purchases of romaine lettuce.

"Small teams of industry experts mimicked the U.S. FDA’s role in conducting the traceback, including determining the data to be requested and how to format the requests for such data," the organizations stated in a news release. The template that the groups developed, the Produce Traceback Template, proved successful in speeding investigations. However, further refining of the template is needed, the groups stated. For example, data on store sales, inventory controls and delivery schedules are not currently captured in the template, and those were found to be critical in managing the scope of outbreak investigations.

Additional training for users across the supply chain also will be vital, the groups noted. A template that isn't used, or isn't used correctly, won't support investigators' efforts.

"Pilots like these are necessary to determine what is needed for traceability to further scale, such as testing interoperability and public and private data sharing,” Bryan Hitchcock, executive director of IFT’s Global Food Traceability Center, said in the news release on behalf of the participating organizations.

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