Get Prepped For PTI
After a series of devastating foodborne illness outbreaks in produce crops, the industry took upon itself a series of actions to help guard against and better react to future outbreaks. One of the primary steps in this mobilization of the industry was the development of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). This voluntary effort is designed to help the industry maximize its ability to keep track of and quickly trace back products in the supply chain from the field to retail level.
PTI is sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh, and Canadian Produce Marketing Association. For growers, the prospect of PTI probably seems to have been looming in the wings for years now, but the reality of the initiative is drawing closer. What’s the message from PTI’s 34-member leadership council that governs the group? Don’t wait, begin implementing PTI now.
PTI, now in its fourth year of existence, has established seven milestones to mark its progress of implementation. The final milestone is to read and store information on all outbound cases, which is essentially whole-chain traceability. The final milestone was due to be met in 2012, which insiders say now is unlikely industrywide. However, progress is moving forward and some of the largest retail chains will likely meet the final milestone this year, which no doubt will impact many in the industry.
Meanwhile, some await the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. However, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor has encouraged the PTI effort, saying: “When real progress is being made, we encourage that and don’t want our progress to be an obstacle.”
“The key word is progress. And yes, the industry has come a long way with the help of solution providers being inventive and creative and helping drive the cost/investment down,” says Dan Vache, of United Fresh. “Some are on target to complete the milestones in 2012. The issue faced by the retail/wholesale segment has been challenging as they discover the need for upgrades to software and hardware, which is taking longer than previously recognized.”
Tracking Safety And Accountability
At the heart of PTI is a standardized computerized capability to track items in the supply chain. This involves the use of GS1 system standards for uniform product information and electronic recordkeeping from the farm to the store at the case level. That level of accountability is critical in future outbreaks when it is considered that 6 billion cases of produce are handled in the U.S. every year.
VirtualOne, a Florida-based company, has been out in front of traceability for a number of years offering products that can be used in traceability. The products were developed for use in Gary Wishnatzki’s own recordkeeping process in his Wish Farms operation.
Minor Bolanos helped develop the data collection software that enables case- and item-level traceability. The software is called Fresh QC. By carrying traceability to the item level, it goes beyond what PTI is requiring with case-level traceability.
The product can provide data such as grower, field, picker, time of harvest, variety, planting date, nursery source, etc. Data is stored electronically and can be accessed by the grower as needed. So, new traceability products and software can be viewed in a much larger context than just food safety.
“Having a knowledge of field processes and an understanding of what would be appropriate for field use really helped us create a system tailored to our customers in the farming industry,” says Bolanos. “One of our biggest differentiators is that our technology can trace all the way back to the picker in the field. We feel our customers have found a lot of added value in the accountability aspect of FreshQC software.”