Produce pilot project focuses on tomatoes

01/05/2012 01:19:00 PM
Tom Karst

The produce traceability pilot project being conducted for the Food and Drug Administration by the Institute of Food Technologists will focus on tomatoes and will begin in mid-January.

Those details about the traceability pilot project were revealed by Tejas Bhatt, staff scientist with the Washington, D.C.-based group in a Jan. 4 web seminar sponsored by Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers. He said the project, tracking tomatoes from field to retail stores, is expected to last about a month.

In the 50-minute web seminar, Bhatt, technical facilitator for FDA pilot projects, said the agency is not as interested in how to implement a recall as much as finding what he called “points of convergence” in a public health outbreak. Those factors can help FDA quickly identify contaminated food and protect public health, he said.

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, Bhatt said the FDA was directed to conduct two traceability pilot projects — one on a produce item and another on a processed food item — based on foods associated with outbreaks from 2005 to 2010. Other stipulations about the pilot projects were the inclusion of both domestic and international products and various sizes of business.

Tomatoes were selected as the commodity for the produce pilot program, Bhatt said. The processed food item will be a frozen or ready-to-eat item that contains peanuts, meat and spices. The pilot projects will include evaluations of costs and benefits and feasibility across the supply chain, he said. The pilot projects cannot prescribe any one technology and they can require not more than one-up and one-down identification.

Bhatt said there has been an incredible response among industry in the call for volunteers for the study.

“I’m really thankful for the food industry to be so enthusiastic for participating,” he said. Bhatt did not say what companies are part of the pilot project, but said about 40 companies are willing to be involved.

As the pilots are conducted, he said the IFT wants input from the entire industry on the importance of the Produce Traceability Initiative.

“We don’t want to come out and undo all that work but at the same time we cannot endorse that because what we’re doing is something that is more for the (entire) industry and not just for produce.”

He said the Institute of Food Technologists conducted a study on tomato traceability in 2009, and the new pilot will show how much traceability has improved since 2009, to show the “state of the industry” in regard to traceability.

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