The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) Leadership Council recently met to refuel industry discussions due to recent events having put a new spotlight on traceability, including recent foodborne illness outbreak investigations, release in Canada of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations and projects exploring the benefits of Blockchain for the food supply chain.

The PTI Leadership Council’s discussions included the importance of ongoing industry collaboration on traceability, and being able to track produce’s “last mile,” according to PTI Leadership Council Co-Chair Doug Grant of The Oppenheimer Group. “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) romaine outbreak investigation, combined with an increasing number of fresh produce recalls, highlight the need to be able to trace our products through to the retail level. And having more buyers step up and implement PTI at distribution center and store level will also send a strong vote of confidence to our supply chain about the need for and value of traceability,” adds Grant.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff has stated publicly that PTI labels would have improved that agency’s traceback investigation. In an interview with Public Radio, Ostroff said, “I’d like to think that [PTI labels] would’ve made the tracebacks that we were engaged in not only considerably easier, but also considerably faster.”

Other topics discussed by the Council included a Walmart-led effort with IBM and other industry members working to harness Blockchain digital ledger technology to provide a farm-to-store view of the food supply chain. A pilot test traced fresh-cut mangoes back to their source in seconds rather than days. The Walmart Blockchain project also leverages global GS1 Standards—the same foundation on which PTI labeling requirements are based for case-level traceability.

Industry progress to implement the voluntary PTI has slowed as the supply chain awaits implementing regulations for both the US FSMA, and prior to their recent release, Canada’s Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. As the FDA has limited authority, industry must take the lead in meeting the demands of the marketplace. PMA and United Fresh have both urged FDA to leverage PTI as it builds traceability regulations.

PTI’s four founding organizations continue to collaborate on PTI traceability best practices, and on Blockchain in general. United Fresh Produce Association’s (United Fresh) Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., is chairing the Leafy Greens Task Force traceability work group; Produce Marketing Association’s Ed Treacy and Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s Jeff Hall and Jane Proctor are also on the work group. McEntire, Treacy and GS1 US’s Angela Fernandez sit on the Global Food Traceability Center’s advisory board.

In addition, council members welcomed Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ director of implementation, as the PTI Technology Working Group’s new co-chair, and thanked outgoing co-chair Andy Kennedy for his service. Kennedy was named interim director of the Global Food Traceability Center in March. He co-founded and is an advisor and board member of FoodLogiQ, a traceability solution provider.