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Pundit’s Mailbag — When It Comes To Traceability, We Have The Technology

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 31, 2007

Our piece, Traceability Falls Short At Distributor Level, pointed out that many products lose their unique identity — and thus their traceability — when they get slotted at foodservice distributors or at retail warehouses.

This makes recalls far more difficult and expensive. Two wholesaler/distributors wrote to remind us that this failure is not one of technical capability:

As is often the case when those in the industry write about the supply chain, the Wholesale Distributor is ignored.

Those of us in the industry whose roots are in Terminal Markets as commission merchants have had the ability to track product well before anyone had ever thought about traceability for food safety reasons. The PACA requires commission merchants to track all sales by lot numbers in order to segregate one grower’s product from another’s. This insures that each grower receives the correct proceeds from the sales of their product.

The Produce Pro software that we use for lot-based sales enables us to track every package in seconds from Supplier to Customer for any lot of product that we have sold since we went on line with our system in the early 1990’s.

We have in fact done recalls on product, notifying the customers involved within hours if not minutes of the time we were made aware of the recall. Customers and suppliers of those of us in the industry who still do some commission sales can be confident of our ability to track both where our product comes from and where it goes. We’ve been doing it for years.

— Alan L. Siger
President & CEO
Consumers Produce Co., Inc. of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Alan possesses one of the sharpest minds in the produce industry, and we are fortunate to have him as a frequent Pundit correspondent including, almost a year ago, when Alan kicked off our spinach crisis coverage with a piece we entitled Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems.

Today it is clear that the Pundit deserves three smacks with a wet noodle for failing to mention that commission merchants have done this for years. Forget about computers… the Pundit’s great-grandfather managed to, if not exactly have full traceability, keep each farmers produce separate and each shipment separate so he could pay what was owed.

In fact we heard from many wholesalers that their computer systems, such as Edible Software of Houston, Texas, were also doing this on a regular basis.

Specifically, we used foodservice distributors as an example, noting that they often bought private label product from their foodservice-buying groups and that this product was often produced by more than one grower/shipper or processor. That led to another letter:

You are correct in that most distributors only track by code; however we (Liberty Fruit Co., Inc.) have taken the additional steps necessary to track all product lines by code and LOT.

We can within minutes trace all products to where they actually were shipped. I believe the industry as a whole needs to move in this direction if we are truly going to ensure food safety.

Thank you for all that you do for the industry.

— Scott Danner
Chief Operating Officer
Liberty Fruit Co., Inc.
Kansas City, Missouri

We appreciate Scott’s kind words and note that Liberty Fruit Co. is a distributor member of Produce Alliance, so he fits the profile of what we were writing about perfectly.

Alan Siger pointed out that commission merchants have long had not merely the incentive but the requirement of being able to track sales by lot number. Liberty is taking a leadership position on this issue in tracking by lot solely for food safety and food security reasons.

As Scott explains: “… the industry as a whole needs to move in this direction if we are truly going to ensure food safety.”

The bottom line here: If Consumers Produce can do it and Liberty Fruit Co. can do it, there is no reason every distributor in American shouldn’t be doing it. It would reduce the impact of recalls and speed up the recall process. We have the technology; all we require it the will.

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