Home > Uncategorized > Rapid Tracing of Food Products Prevents Illness

Rapid Tracing of Food Products Prevents Illness

Keeping our food safe is one of the missions of the FDA and the key goal of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama in January 2011.  The new law includes a number of provisions that will help FDA – and the producers, growers, processors and distributors – keep the food you eat safe.

One important provision is designed to help us improve how we track food along the food chain.  Those of us who work on food issues have been exploring ways to improve what we call product tracing so we can prevent a large scale outbreak when there’s a report of a contaminated food.  For example, last year people reported they got sick after eating cantaloupes contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, and FDA worked with industry to get the cantaloupe off the shelves.

When a foodborne outbreak occurs, it is up to us, the FDA, and others, such as our industry partners, other government regulators to make sure that contaminated food products are no longer available.  By quickly tracing the food product, we can help to minimize the risk to consumers.

FDA is working closely with the food industry, other government partners, and consumer groups, to develop a national food tracing system.  Since there is no standard system in place, we began a couple of pilot programs working with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a nonprofit, scientific society of professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions, that has collected information and input from a variety of experts, including industry and consumer advocates.  Through these pilot projects, we are looking at practices, processes and types of technology that we might be able to use to help us better trace foods.  Nearly 1,000 individuals and organizations have been asked for their input and experiences to help us develop the pilot projects.  Ultimately, this will help us implement a strong product tracing system.

With that input and our own data, we selected the types of foods that we will be following as part of these pilot projects.  They are:

  • Tomatoes, grown in fields and greenhouses; whole and sliced; and distributed to restaurants and other institutions like hospitals, schools and nursing homes, and through grocery stores.  We are looking at tomatoes because they have been involved in a number of significant and repeat outbreaks.  Tomatoes represent a complex food supply chain and were identified by most industry associations as a top candidate for the produce related pilot;
  • Frozen Kung Pao-style dishes that contain peanut products, red pepper spice, and chicken were chosen because they contain multiple ingredients involved in significant outbreaks.  They also offer a variety of supply chain distribution channels, and, like tomatoes, can involve both domestic and imported products.
  • Jarred peanut butter and dry, packaged peanut/spice were added to the pilot projects to enhance the complexity of the pilots.

The results of the pilot projects will be completed this summer, and we expect to be able to use the information to help us develop a comprehensive product tracing system.  By being better prepared to successfully identify the source of outbreaks through more rapid traceback and traceforward investigations, FDA, working closely with the food industry, will be better positioned to prevent future outbreaks and illness.

For more information visit:

Updates on the pilot projects are also available at the IFT web site.

Sherri McGarry

Senior Advisor, Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network

Office of Foods, FDA

  1. Sheev
    March 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I appreciate the fact that the FDA is taking more precaution when it comes looking in protecting our citizens against food-borne illnesses. Outbreaks like 2008 Salmonella outbreak or The Peanut Corporation in 2009, were disastrous for the FDA. There were at least 1017 cases in forty-one states during 2008 outbreak and 691 cases in forty-six states in the 2009 outbreak. I’m glad that the administration is finally getting on top of this to solve this problem and food tracking would be a great way to do this.

  2. Bill
    March 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    While I do not want to place unusual burdens on the food industry there is no question we need to have accurate and fast programs to track food born problems.

  3. loansremortgage
    March 26, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Great Post!

  4. dori
    March 26, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Nice

  5. ivanpaunovic
    March 27, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Unfortunately, I think we are far, far away from eating safe food. It’s not all about bacteria. Just think about all FDA approved chemicals, or genetically modified foods that we eat every day…

    • Dave
      December 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Not to mention the industrialization of the entire food industry. Growing produce in the path of runoff from meat processing factories and animals chock full of hormones don’t exactly scream “safe”.

  6. Broadband Expert
    April 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    It is nice to know that the government is doing its best to keep the food safe in order to protect the citizens.

  7. Layla Kinlan
    April 14, 2012 at 4:19 am

    I think we should also be worried about genetically modified foods. Sometimes it takes many years to discover what chemicals and ingredients have ill-effects for our health.

  8. Thomas Vanhoutte
    April 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I’m curious to know the results of this pilot project. The information here can be then used to prevent future outbreaks and illness overall.
    Keep us updated.

    Best wishes

  9. Ummi
    April 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Nice, Thanks for it.

  10. Chris
    May 13, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Nice post which FDA is working closely with the food industry, other government partners, and consumer groups, to develop a national food tracing system. Since there is no standard system in place, we began a couple of pilot programs working with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a nonprofit, scientific society of professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions, that has collected information and input from a variety of experts, including industry and consumer advocates. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

  11. Brunhilde Merker
    May 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    We tried several times to post a comment, but there is obviously no interest in letting the industry know ScoringAg has a standardized system, that’s in use by all types of industry from fish to meat traceback to produce and ingredients since 2005. We demonstrated the system last year to IFT and they where amazed a working system like ScoringAg exist. There is no need to invent the wheel and the price of $0.55 per record and year for all FSMA documentation is so cheap even developing countries can afford it. ScoringAg is a recordkeeping and traceback system in one, not only a number tracking system.

  12. red leather jacket
    May 19, 2012 at 8:30 am

    FDA Transparency Blog done great job for human health and services…

  13. May 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

    FDA is really helpful for human resources….

  14. May 19, 2012 at 10:14 am

    good article about protect citizen…

  15. May 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

    i appreciate the fact happened by FDA..

  16. cool jackets
    May 19, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I think we should also be worried about genetically modified foods.Nice post which FDA is working closely with the food industry, other government partners, and consumer groups, to develop a national food tracing system

  17. alpine jacket
    May 19, 2012 at 11:07 am

    FDA done Rapid Tracing of Food Products Prevents Illness great!…

  18. American jackets
    May 19, 2012 at 11:15 am

    FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama in January nice job…

  19. letterman jacket
    May 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

    One important provision is designed to help us improve how we track food along the food chain. nice job by FDA..

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    May 19, 2012 at 11:36 am

    very nice post…

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  22. Kred
    May 29, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Food tracing programme is a must-have in my opinion. Especially if we want to track food chains dealing with genetically modified organisms.

  23. freetrickz
    June 4, 2012 at 5:23 am

    awesome post.gr8 job sherry…

  24. Brenntag Food Ingredients Distribution
    June 20, 2012 at 10:53 am

    As a distributor of food ingredients in the UK we are always interested in improving the way we track potential outbreaks of food contamination. In situations where ingredients are distributed across borders is almost impossible to know where the food has been contaminated but for our part we always track pick up and delivery points and offer this information as a matter of course.

  25. Advance Technology Tools
    June 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Prevention from illness is necessary for every one and it is the struggle of us if we reached the target to minimize the illnesses, thanks!

  26. Advance Technology Tools
    June 25, 2012 at 9:26 am

    hi, sherry! you have shared a great information, thanks!

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    July 4, 2012 at 6:54 am

    FDA is working closely with the food industry, other government partners, and consumer groups, to develop a national food tracing system.

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    July 9, 2012 at 3:15 am

    Good day! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!

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  30. jearuiz01
    July 27, 2012 at 5:49 am

    great info

  31. Orange County
    September 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I buy from some “natural” food companies that add tracking availability to the packaging. I really appreciate having this option and think that all companies should have to do this; especially for fresh foods. Helps with contamination issues.

  32. alvaror23
    October 6, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Sherry I believe the IFT completed the pilots already. Any chance the findings will become available?

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    Dear FDA: PLEASE do not give in to the Canadian/Mexican threat of retaliation concerning “country of origin” requirements on American food labels. Quality food speaks for itself in sales.

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  37. Josh
    June 18, 2013 at 12:26 am

    It would certainly be interesting to hear the outcome of the pilots. I think this system could really make a difference. The quicker we can trace the issue the faster it will get resolved, hence less damage done.

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    January 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    How about looking into the wooden pallets that transport our foods. They are left outside where rats and other animals urinate and defecate on them . they are a hazard . something needs to be done with this issue as well

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