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WASHINGTON -- Federal food-safety regulators will hold a two-day meeting next month to hear from the food industry and other experts on ways to build a whole-chain traceability system for all foods, not just fresh produce.

The Food & Drug Administration and the Food Safety & Inspection Service are joining forces to hold the Dec. 9-10 meeting, here, because the agencies said they need to increase the speed and accuracy of traceback and traceforward operations.

"FDA and FSIS intend the public meeting to stimulate and focus a discussion about the core elements of product tracing systems, gaps in current product tracing systems, and mechanisms to enhance product tracing systems for food," the FDA said in a 13-page notice that appeared in the Nov. 3 Federal Register. The agencies are asking participants to answer 11 questions that range from issues with tracing by lot or code number and record maintenance to how to make this information available to the FDA and how much traceability systems will cost.

The FDA held two public meetings last year on ways to improve fresh produce traceability in the wake of several high-profile outbreak investigations, which the FDA said highlighted the need to improve traceability systems.

"We had expected FDA to issue produce traceability guidelines in October, but the thought now is to focus on traceability for human food and feed," Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, told The Produce News, adding that the association will be offering testimony as it feels this is a very important issue for its members.

The United Fresh Produce Association said that it plans to testify at the two- day meeting and will highlight the progress made by the Produce Traceability Initiative toward achieving whole-chain traceability for fresh produce. United Fresh will coordinate with other PTI stakeholders in order to provide the FDA with a comprehensive overview of the produce industry's efforts on traceability, the group said in a Nov. 4 alert to members.

The meeting comes as Congress is considering food-safety legislation that would direct the FDA to conduct a pilot study before mandating that the entire food industry adopt traceability systems.

The U.S. House passed a food-safety bill in July, but the Senate has yet to vote on the bill since the committee with jurisdiction over food-safety matters is engaged in healthcare reform negotiations.