Produce Traceability for Beginners

RPE explains the basics of PTI, consumer safety and recall systems

Published online: Jul 03, 2014
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Traceability and the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) have quickly become a hot topic in the produce world this year, including at RPE in Bancroft, Wis.

When people refer to PTI, they are talking about the guidelines set for all produce companies to achieve case-level electronic traceability for their fresh produce. Case-level electronic traceability means an individual case of produce can be traced back to its packaging location, grower and more just by scanning a barcode.

The seven guidelines in the PTI ensure that all companies, including growers, packagers and retailers, are speaking the same language when it comes to tracing produce. The barcodes placed on cases now all contain the same information, such as packaging date, lot number and other pertinent information. RPE became PTI compliant on Jan. 1, 2014.

The main purpose of produce traceability is to protect consumer health and safety. Although potatoes have never had a large-scale recall and are a low-risk produce item as they are cooked before consumption, it is important to be prepared.

“Although manual recall systems may work well for a company with a basic product, for a produce company that is sending potatoes from one lot to 15 customers in 27 different packages, a manual recall simply isn’t fast enough,” explains national quality assurance manager Angela Saeger. That’s when software like the barcodes implemented by the PTI is necessary to effectively execute a recall, especially when a company has only a two-hour window to do so.

Produce traceability is also required by Section 306 of the Bioterrorism Act, which states that all companies that grow, pack and ship food need to have a recall traceability program for consumers’ safety.

PrimusGFS, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized audit system RPE and many other Midwestern growers use, also emphasizes produce traceability and requires a mock recall every six months. The company is allowed to choose what item it wants to test a recall for, whether it be packaging, a finished product or sprout inhibitor, as well as the severity of the mock recall.

The key to produce traceability is keeping good records from seed to the packaged potatoes; every produce company needs to have them. RPE’s quality assurance team also collects water and chemical records from our growers after harvest each season. The other key component for a produce company is having a good recall team, which includes not just the quality assurance team but also its transportation, sales and administrative staff.

By implementing produce traceability, growers and shippers of fresh produce including potatoes are creating a safer marketplace and supply chain for our consumers.

Learn more about the Produce Traceability Initiative by clicking here.