Food Tracing System Needs Improvement
Investigators recently tested the nation's food tracing system, looking to see if they could follow different products through the supply chain. They found that only five out of 40 foods were completely traceable, a flaw that seriously impairs foodborne illness investigations.
Though federal law requires food companies to keep records that allow investigators to trace suspect foods, the Health and Human Services inspector general's office found that the records many companies keep are insufficient. The agency bought 40 food items, including bottled water, eggs, tomatoes, fruit juice, and yogurt, and tried to trace the items back from the retailer to the source. The following are the results of their testing:
- Slightly more than 12 percent of the items were fully traceable.
- Investigators were able to identify the facilities that most likely handled 31 of the 40 products.
- Four items, or 10 percent of the total, were completely untraceable.
The inspector general's report said most facilities do not keep records with specific lot numbers that would assist in tracing foods. The agency recommended that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider pursuing stronger legal powers to improve food traceability. The FDA said it is reviewing the recommendations.