your-news image
PHILADELPHIA - A single set of standards is critically important as the national produce industry moves with its global partners toward an efficient traceability program.

Those standards were detailed at a June 24 meeting, here, as more than 100 produce industry representatives gathered for a presentation about the Produce Traceability Initiative that was part of the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Connections series. Giving the presentation was Gary Fleming, vice president of industry technology and standards for PMA.

In his presentation, Mr. Fleming referenced the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 and explained that the fresh produce industry is required to comply with the act, which is administered by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. But, the FDA currently does not have the resources to monitor compliance with the act.

Nonetheless, non-compliance carries the potential for heavy penalties, Mr. Fleming told The Produce News.

But during this grace period preceding serious enforcement, creating a best means of compliance is left to the industry. In January 2008, PMA teamed with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association to create PTI with the purpose of creating a single set of standards for the produce industry to apply to establishing a consistent traceability system. PTI has tied-in with the non-profit international group, GS1, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, to bond with global standards and have a system administrator. There are 145 countries that cooperate with GS1 standards, Mr. Fleming said.

The PTI leadership maintains that if the fresh fruit and vegetable industry creates agreeable standards, it will circumvent the inevitable creation of standards by a federal agency, which may not be as industry-friendly.

"If we don't do this now, the government will do it for us," Mr. Fleming emphasized.

Central to PTI is a 14-digit code called GTIN, which is an acronym for Global Trade Item Number. Companies registering for their GTIN pay a one-time fee to GS1. The registration fee is dependent on the company's size; Mr. Fleming said that a company with sales of $100 million would pay $20,000. The good news is that the annual fee for all firms thereafter is only $500.

PTI is "minimizing the impact" of a national traceability program by using existing standards. These are tied into GS1," Mr. Fleming said, noting that UPC codes are part of GS1 standardization.

The GTIN is used as an identification number for the company involved in a transaction. Lot numbers are also part of the GTIN. Pack and harvest dates are optional if that information is included with the lot number background information. Traceability information is to include "one up and one down," meaning a firm handling a product must know who provided a particular product and who bought that product. Mr. Fleming emphasized that the GTIN information requires no new sales information that companies are not already tracking. "This is faster because all the information is in the database."

Mr. Fleming told The Produce News that PTI is creating a framework for national produce industry traceability standards. But, he noted that those standards could be tweaked as the industry gains experience in this realm and finds details in need of correction.

When PTI was created, there were 48 charter companies that participated in the initial work, Mr. Fleming said, with 11 from the foodservice industry, 15 retailers and 22 grower-shippers. There are now 60 member companies.

Since PTI was created, six new associations have become involved: the Food Marketing Institute, the National Grocers Association, the National Restaurant Association, the International Foodservice Distributors Association, the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian Horticultural Council.

Mr. Fleming said that full details on PTI are available at www.pma.com, and within a couple weeks, a full report on the June 24 meeting, including answers to all written questions submitted at the meeting, would be on the web site.