Traceback to the Future

Helping growers comply with FSMA

Published in the November 2011 Issue Published online: Nov 07, 2011 Tyler J. Baum
Viewed 1158 time(s)

William Kanitz has always been one to jump at the opportunities brought on by new technology. The Michigan produce and field crop grower was quite possibly the first person in the state of Michigan to own an eight-row John Deere 7700 combine, purchased right out of the Farm Progress Show in which it debuted. He also had an M-1 Abrams tank computer-a Voice Tablet from Intelliworxx-running in a tractor long before GPS units were known.

Now Kanitz, who works with growers while running a traceback company called ScoringSystem, Inc., is years ahead of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), passed this year by Congress, signed into law by the president and implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

His agricultural division,, links tracking and traceback recordkeeping info of all food and feed, ingredient containers and beverages-whether perishable or not-and makes managing product tracking information easier and more secure, in a cost-effective manner.

With this technology, Kanitz is able to help growers comply with the new Good Agricultural Practices rules, the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law and FSMA, with recordkeeping regulations for required traceback labels that are in effect right now.

Keeping up with Traceability

In 1998, Kanitz, who has grown many crops such as potatoes, asparagus and grain as well as raised cattle and hogs, started ScoringSystem Inc. as a means of scoring cattle in real time-using a video record of each animal. Through trial and error, he abandoned efforts to use Microsoft and Oracle as databases and went with UNIX, a multitasking, multi-user computer operating system used by universities and governments today.

Right after 9/11, Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, also known as the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. The purpose of the 2002 Bioterrorism Act was to allow the FDA and other authorities to quickly determine the source and cause of any deliberate or accidental contamination of food. It allowed the FDA to identify these sources through information provided by registered food facilities prior to entry of food and beverages for human and animal consumption. The act was voluntary for growers.

Because of that 2002 law, Kanitz began expanding ScoringSystem and came up with a traceback system, ScoringAg, which can trace any crop and all ingredients to the field of production using a mobile GPS labeling system and the database. Now, ScoringSystem has several divisions, including ScoringAg, ScoringWine and Scoring Horses. His company is now based out of Bradenton, Fla.

With the general public more concerned with food safety than ever over the past 10 years, the 2002 Bioterrorism Act was supplanted by this year's FSMA. Having taken effect July 3, the FDA now has the power to detain food and feed products that it has reason to believe are adulterated or misbranded, and mislabeled for up to 30 days, if needed, to ensure they are kept out of the marketplace while the agency determines whether an enforcement action may be required, such as seizure of products or federal injunction against a firm.

Yet despite this frightening possibility in the event of a produce recall, Kanitz's database system can minimize the damage done to the industry or to a grower specifically-with the help of proper required documentation-by limiting the contaminated crop to a single field or day.

From A to Z

ScoringAg isn't just a service for potato growers in the United States. ScoringAg handles "from A to Z in produce," as well as all animals and fish processed for food and their different cuts of meat, in countries all over the world.

Kanitz says it's a quantitative system that starts before or during land preparation and goes all the way to when the product is shipped and sold at retail.

"So it's a full field-to-fork-and-everything-that's-in-between," he says, "from soil tests to scouting and GAP requirements. It covers a broad spectrum of everything that's needed for the Food Safety Modernization Act and also for a farm to keep year-to-year records."

According to Kanitz, ScoringAg is a web-based, 128-bit, military-encrypted system that can do what he calls the "pizza test," or the "Banquet pot pie test." ScoringAg has the ability to trace back every single ingredient in a frozen Banquet pot pie-such as potatoes, meat, sauce, flour and even ingredients, including monosodium glutamate or dicalcium phosphate.

Tracing back every ingredient gets so complex, he compares it to a Christmas tree and all the needles on it. Because the system is complex, he relies on UNIX as an invaluable database, running on Red Hat Apache servers.

"That's why when you click on or use, you got an answer right now. There's no lag time."

Since 2005, he's been a development partner with Nokia, so the system is compatible with wireless PDA's, laptops and programmed iPhones and other units such as Androids.

He just worked with Michigan State University on beef for traceback records for smart phones.

Kanitz says the system is inexpensive for growers to use. The cost is per field, not per acre. The grower just needs to keep the records and break down the packaging by field.

Growers may not know how to do that, but Kanitz has the easy solution.

"That's where we come in," he says. "We know how to do that."

ScoringAg's wireless PDA GPS labeling system is interactive with the ScoringAg world-class database for data collection as the FSMA law will require two years of crop production records storage.

Kanitz points out that being able to trace back or recall product back to a field minimizes the risk during an industry recall.

"Your risk is only what you harvested that day. You can harvest a lot of potatoes in one day, but it's better to have one day's potato loss than it is to.put all your eggs in one basket."

One grower in Florida, Calvin Sill of Sill Farms, has been using the system for the past two seasons-since the year before the FSMA took effect.

Sill is a third-generation grower who farms with his son, Brody, growing reds and whites in Florida and Pennsylvania for the fresh market. Two years ago, Kanitz approached them about the ScoringAg system, and they've been using it the past two seasons.

Their recordkeeping database and real-time labeling system handles all pictures and data requirements, such as water tests, soil tests, previous cropping information, site history and GAP's prevention activities performed in the location site records part of the database.

The crop records portion of the database covers land prep, planting, scouting, irrigation, certification, any pesticides that are applied, harvesting, transportation and packing/storage records. The GPS information for each block is tied directly to the labeled product leaving the packing shed and cooler.

The Sills pack all sizes and use bulk totes, boxes and paper bags, which are labeled with the shipping information and total traceback info on every case or tote including harvest date and time and GPS location and lot numbers, weights, plus product sizes. With this technology, this gives the Sills total FDA FSMA rule compliance and COOL law requirements for shipping their largest acreage volume potato, Red LaSoda, and gives full traceability needed for exporting into Canada or other countries.

Once information is entered into the ScoringAg database, it can't be changed, which means it meets the federal requirements for documentation (21 CFR Part 11) and source verification for all movement and records. Information stored includes country and state of origin, planting date, variety used, certifications, scouting, weather conditions, irrigation water records and amounts, good agricultural practices performed, food-borne prevention practices and driver, trailer sanitation conditions plus shipping records. Since the FDA now requires data storage of two production years, it's easy with, says Brody Sill.

Calvin says the system works well. They're able to keep track of the exact location the potatoes were dug.

"That can all be posted on our records, and then with the SSI-EID coded labeling, the buyer can also find out exactly where they came from," he says. "With GAP regulations continuing to come into force, this is making it so much easier for us."

Kanitz knows growers can-and do-make a lot of things themselves, and labels can be no different.

"If something doesn't work, you get the torch out, cut it apart and re-weld it back together. And it works. In this case, growers need to make their own labels, their own stickers and everything that needs to happen in between, because that's what's required and it's cheaper. They need to have it so that they can cut their risk in case something does go wrong."