Traceability: I can’t draw but I can trace

Traceability is one of those food safety buzzwords that’s been around for awhile but doesn’t seem to mean much. Last year during the Salmonella in tomatoes/jalapenos outbreak, health types expressed severe frustration that many food vendors had little idea where their tomatoes were coming from. Same with the current peanut mess – why are companies still figuring out, two months after the initial recalls, that they have the PCA crap in their products.

A  report expected to be made public today by Daniel R. Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, found that most food manufacturers and distributors cannot identify the suppliers or recipients of their products despite federal rules that require them to do so.

The investigators contacted 220 food facilities to ask about their supplier records. But only 118 of these businesses were included in the study because the rest were not required under rules adopted by the F.D.A. in 2005 to maintain supplier and recipient records. Of those 118 firms, 70 failed to provide investigators with required information about suppliers or customers, with 6 of the companies failing to provide any information at all.

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel was scheduled to tell the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Agriculture today that,

“… we have a very good story to tell in produce traceability.”

However, one vendor told investigators that it kept no records of tomato purchases.

Tomatoes have repeatedly been implicated in nationwide food contamination scares, including one last year. Fifteen facilities told investigators they mixed raw products from more than 10 farms.