A uniquely printed label for each produce container allows supply chain parties and the consumer to get full data on the produce’s origin.

In addition to HarvestMark’s specific requirements, Creative Labels recently ordered a new, 100% inspection unit for its press that will inspect and verify the integrity of the printed product and read the variable barcodes. Source: Creative Labels.
The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), sponsored by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association, will help the industry maximize the effectiveness of current trace-back procedures on case-level lots, while developing a standardized industry approach to enhance the speed and efficiency of traceability systems for the future.

Whether it’s a single watermelon or a clamshell of strawberries, traceability solutions in the produce industry are all built on a simple foundation: a carefully designed label that gives each item, or each package, a unique identification number or code.

Armed with this ID, growers and packers can track an individual item back to its source in the event of food safety issues or recall. In addition, consumers will also be able to trace the source and distribution of their produce purchase on their iPhone or the Web. One private, industry-traceability solution provider is HarvestMark. But for it to be effective, it must rely on a network of partnerships with both growers and label converters.

Label converters such as Creative Labels Inc., which has partnered with HarvestMark, must invest in the latest variable data printing and quality assurance (QA) technologies to print the billions of labels, in sequential order, that will be required in the next several years.

“The label converters really make traceability possible. They are the key to the whole thing,” says Elliott Grant, chief marketing officer and the founder of HarvestMark. According to Grant, a traceability solution like HarvestMark now requires labels that include not only the traditional printed company artwork and product information, but also a sophisticated 2D barcode. A 2D barcode can store up to 7,089 characters within a graphical image, significantly greater than the 20-character capacity of a traditional barcode. 

Variable data printing, a form of on-demand printing in which elements such as text, graphics and images may be changed from one printed item to the next, is well understood to be the future of label printing. However, for many label converters, variable data printing requires a 6-figure investment in the appropriate equipment along with extensive training.

“It’s a combination of having the right equipment and the right set of technical skills so they can not only print a high-quality label, but also print the unique 2D barcode on each label at line speed,” explains Grant.

With the importance of the label in the process, HarvestMark relies on certified partners to print and/or integrate HarvestMark codes into their packaging materials and products.

Oxnard, CA-based Cool Pak works directly with growers and shippers throughout the US-and in particular California. “We consider traceability to be a strategic area of growth for Cool Pak, and we are working to be at the forefront of the issue within the produce industry,” says Daisy Contreras, inventory production controller at Cool Pak.

To date, Cool Pak has utilized HarvestMark for both strawberries and grapes. The company uses Gilroy, CA-based Creative Labels, also a certified HarvestMark partner, for its labels. Creative Labels specializes in printing high-quality and pressure-sensitive labels, tags and coupons for many industries, and has worked with many produce growers and shippers in Northern California

The HarvestMark codes are more than simple serial numbers, says Grant. They also have security encryption built into them so the codes can be used for things like customer loyalty programs.