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.
Senior Advisor, Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network
Office of Foods, FDA