Episode 120: Ralph Towell
Sep 30, 2020, Updated Jun 11, 2021
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The Produce Traceability Initiative is an industry wide initiative to properly track packages to ensure food safety events are identified as fast as possible.
Have you ever struggled to trust name brands or your local produce suppliers due to news headlines of dangerous salmonella or E. coli outbreaks? It’s hard to make sure you’re providing your family with healthy, nutritious food when there’s the fear and threat of contaminants on your fresh produce that can make members of your household sick.
The produce industry wants and needs your trust in order to survive and in order to continue to provide the world with the food that makes us thrive! That’s why the produce industry collectively came together to create a system that remedies these events as fast as possible by tracking packages from the minute a produce box is closed to the minute a grocery retailer or wholesaler opens that same case.
“The common denominator between shipper and receiver is the case.” – Ralph Towell (10:26-10:32)
In order to effectively communicate across the produce supply chain worldwide, no matter what language or country a company is in, GS1 was put in place as the global communications standards. The great thing about these communication standards is all parts of the production and supply chain can be tracked down to each case.
If you’re thinking, “Case? What about down to the unit?”, don’t worry, so is the PTI. Unfortunately, in order to track each individual unit (ie. a package of Dandy celery vs. a case of 30 packs of Dandy celery), we’d need to have printers and computers directly in the farm field where that celery was picked! Technology and a process for this is coming, but for now, having the ability to track cases from start to finish is a game changer in efficiently identifying food safety events.
“Instead of taking weeks and months to track down a particular source, if the traceability program is properly in place, you would be able to trace down and get to the root cause (once you’ve identified a cluster of events) in days.” – Ralph Towell (15:27-15:47)
Having the proper protocol in place at the field level, packing level, shipping and handling level is key to food safety. This is what ensures no contaminations are introduced during the process of picking, packaging, shipping, retailing and delivering fresh produce to you and your family to eat. There’s about 15-20 touches of a case or product before it hits retail shelves.
Traceability doesn’t necessarily measure the implementation of safety protocol, but it allows for products to be tracked correctly through each step of the supply chain, so that in the event of a food safety issue, suppliers can identify where the proper protocols weren’t followed.
There are seven key milestones the produce industry follows to ensure PTI compliance is taking place.
First, a company needs to have their prefix registered and receive their Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN). Then, their entire library of items needs to have these GTIN’s so buyers around the world can speak a common language with them. Next, trading partners need to receive that GTIN information and corresponding data.
Fourth, the company needs to make sure cases and boxes have readable information on them so in the event a backroom stocker or manager’s scan gun doesn’t work, they can still identify what’s in the case. Next, the information is encoded into a barcode on the case label. The receiver needs to be able to read this information along with the stores and restaurants that receive the produce.
Who knew the process for bringing your family fresh salad or grilled asparagus was so intricate!? Know that all industries within produce are working passionately to get traceability down to the individual package level. Find out more about Ralph’s work at Duda Farm Fresh Foods by visiting www.dudafresh.com and dive further into the Produce Traceability Initiative process and resources at www.producetraceability.org.
How to get involved
- Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
- Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.
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