What you need to know about the Produce Traceability Initiative

Produce is big business in the United States: every year, the industry handles an estimated 6 billion cases of produce. That massive operational scope underscores the importance of reliability in all facets of the supply chain. Not only does it help operational efficiency, it also helps protect both companies and the public: in the event of a recall or similar problem, the issue can be resolved more much quickly and with less expense.

To achieve that reliability, companies from all over the industry have come together to promote the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). This effort is aimed at promoting voluntary maximization of the effectiveness of track and trace procedures, a process which includes a standardized approach to traceability tests.

This initiative is made particularly important by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), an FDA regulation that reforms food safety laws across the country. According to the FDA, the agency is aiming to work with the industry to ensure that the legislation is adopted voluntarily, rather than as a result of crackdowns and fines. Roberta Wagner, deputy director for regulatory affairs for the FDA’s Center for Food safety and Applied Nutrition, explained these efforts at a United Fresh workshop in June.

“What we really want is to gain voluntary industry compliance with these new standards so that when we do start inspecting against the standards and find noncompliance, what we want is voluntary industry corrections that are adequate and timely,” said Wagner.

With that in mind, here are the key points that companies that do business with the produce industry should stay aware of:

PTI offers substantial benefits: Not only does it enhance consumer confidence and help to ensure compliance with the FSMA, it can also improve delivery times to retailers and food service distributors. The increased transparency aids companies along the entire supply chain. Adopters also stand to gain more acute insight into the needs of their customers.
There are several milestones to implementation: First, you should acquire a company prefix, which are assigned by GS1 and demarcate your company on a global level. Second, affix a Global Trade Item Number code to each case configuration. You should give this information to buyers, who will be able to use it to track your produce and ensure that it comes on time. This data should be in “human readable” form: i.e., a person should be able to interpret it by looking at it. Encode this information onto a barcode as well, and should be stored on both inbound and outbound cases.
Processes need to be reviewed: After implementing each of the above steps, you can determine how your current processes fit in to this system. You won’t necessarily need a complete overhaul of all of the procedures you’ve spent so much time building up — instead, you might be able to simply make small adjustments to better comply with PTI.
The steps inherent in this process are simple, but the potential benefit is huge. With a few key changes to your shipping and receiving processes, you can be part of an initiative that is giving the produce industry a never-before-seen level of reliability.