Mandatory automated tracing of food stuffs nears

Published 7 September 2009

There indications the the FDA may soon require food companies to maintain lot and batch information records electronically better to facilitate forward and backward traceability

It is quite possible that in the near future the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may require food companies to maintain lot and batch information records electronically better to facilitate forward and backward traceability.

Mike Mitchell writes in Manufacturing Business Technology that back in March, Daniel Levinson, Inspector General of Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, presented findings to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration on the FDA’s ability to protect the Nation’s food supply.

The agency’s findings paint a bleak picture:

  • Only 5 of the 40 products purchased could be traced through each stage of the food supply chain back to the farm or border
  • 31 of the 40 products purchased could not be traced through each stage of the food supply chain; OIG was only able to identify facilities that likely handled the products
  • For the remaining 4 of the 40 products, OIG could not even identify the facilities that likely handled these products.

Inspector General Levinson’s recommendations included:

  • …seek statutory authority, if necessary, to strengthen the existing records requirements regarding lot-specific information. Specifically, FDA should require processors, packers, and manufacturers to create lot-specific information-and maintain it-if it does not exist…”
  • …consider seeking additional statutory authority to require food facilities to further strengthen the traceability of food products. This could include a variety of approaches such as requiring facilities that handle food products to maintain records about every facility or farm that handled the product, or requiring facilities to use certain information technologies to help facilitate recordkeeping.”
  • …work with the food industry to develop guidance on traceability.”
  • …seek statutory authority to request facilities’ records at any time, as opposed to its current authority to request records only when FDA has a reasonable belief that an article of food presents a serious health threat…”

On 30 July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved key provisions of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. These key provisions grant the FDA an unprecedented level of authority including:

  • Mandatory recalls of tainted foods, rather than previous voluntary requests
  • Identifying traceability technology that can be used by food growers, manufacturers and distributors to determine the origin of food and its movement in the supply chain
  • Annual inspection of high-risk facilities
  • Requiring imported foods to meet the same safety standards as domestic food producers
  • Instituting safe practices and standards for food handling and production

Many have speculated that this issue may take a back seat to other issues like health care reform,” Mitchell writes, but “the genie is out of the bottle and based on these recent events, the signs seem to indicate that the FDA may soon require food processors to institute more sophisticated means of traceability.”