Origin of Outbreaks Difficult to Track

Where does it end?

To know that, the FDS first has to find where it began.

The recent outbreak of E. coli has exposed flaws in the tracking of produce from growers to market. With traceability codes remaining voluntary, those producers who do not opt-in are required only to track their immediate suppliers and immediate customers. This means that for the FDA, tracking from market to grower involves dozens of steps, each of which requires contacting a given market or transport company. Then, tracing back one step, they repeat the process over and over. Beyond that, if a company kept incomplete records, or suffered a loss of data, the trail can go cold, requiring the process to begin again down a different path.

With 42 infected customers, nine of which are suffering kidney failure, many believe that the voluntary traceability codes may become mandatory in the future. Proper use of labeling codes can dramatically speed up investigations into outbreaks, allowing tainted produce to be pulled from the shelf without sweeping suggestions like “Avoid any Romaine from Arizona”. Better targeting leads to quicker responses, which leads to more targeted recalls and less of a blow to the wider industry.

Even with our increasingly technological supply chains, without good records and constant improvement to the process, outbreaks can and will continue to happen. Good practices along each step of the supply chain can reduce a company’s risk. It is always better to invest in training and process than recalls and response.

Ron Vail, founder of ACET Consulting and a specialist in food safety for over 35 years, puts it this way; “A focus on food safety isn’t a cost, it’s a way to add value. Taking into consideration the damage an outbreak can do to a brand, and a business’s reputation, alongside the risk to customers, preventing issues from occurring should really be considered a way to boost revenue. The benefit of implementing these sorts of programs is to keep the product safe, and meet the expectations of customers, but also to increase the profit margins by avoiding costly mistakes.”

Apart from the risks to consumers who may consume tainted products, the risk to companies who allow unsafe produce to make it to market cannot be overstated.

Food Safety News – Romaine sources remain elusive as E. Coli outbreak expands

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Matthew Regusci

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