New Food Safety Law Demands Traceability

The new federal food safety law is shaking up food regulation on many levels, not the least of which is food traceability. A piece of the new law requires that every piece of the country's food supply chain be accounted for. Everyone, from farmers to processors to retailers should be able to easilytrace both who they sent a food product to and who they received it from. It sounds simple enough, but such comprehensive traceability hasn't been a very well regulated aspect of food safety in the past, but is increasingly important as food safety issues surface with more regularity.

In order to track food products, companies and people involved in food supply will have to maintain all information in digital form. The digitized records will be more standardized and easily accessible, and some may even be accessed by the average consumer. As consumer concern and interest in the safety of their food grows, some supermarkets are employing smartphone technologies to get the scoop on products. Shoppers can simply wave their smart phone over an item and get the back story: where it came from, even who grew it. For interested consumers, traceability provisions may have the added bonus of greater transparency.

Because the food supply chain in the US is often very long, and a product may change hands and forms ten times before it lands on your table, the FDA has had a difficult time tracking products. This is particularly problematic during a food-borne illness outbreak, as has been the case numerous times in recent years. With so many players, the FDA has trouble figuring out just where something went wrong.

While this new traceability system sounds wonderful from a food safety standpoint, it may not be so wonderful for everyone involved, particularly the small farmers and processors. New regulations require new equipment, standards, and technology. This could be problematic and expensive for small-scale farmers and producers, who often operate outside the realm of barcodes.  Ironically, it is these very producers who are quite often the upholders of food safety and health to begin with, since their products changes hands only once or twice, from farm to fork.

In any case, increased food traceability will prove to be a mjor shift in our food chain, and one that is being called for by consumers. As people are more wary of food borne illness, and more curious about where their food comes from, they want to be assured that such information can be accessed quickly and accurately. As the traceability system is put in place over the next years, it will be interesting to see how consumers utilize the information.

photo credit: the punch