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American Shipper

Produce industry launches supply chain tracking plan

Produce industry launches supply chain tracking plan

A group of 34 companies involved with producing, handling and retailing fresh produce have endorsed a plan to implement a common standard for electronically tracking product throughout the U.S. supply chain by the end of 2012.

   The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) involves the adoption of a standardized system of case-level bar codes for all produce sold in the United States. In addition to the commercial benefits, the PTI said it will help the industry and federal regulators more efficiently respond to produce recalls.

   PTI is administered by the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. The 34 companies endorsing the plan are members of PTI's supply chain steering committee.

   'We've seen the need for supply chain-wide, electronic traceability across the industry so that we're able to trace product more quickly and efficiently than we can now,' said Cathy Green, PTI steering committee chairman and chief operating officer for Food Lion, in an Oct. 7 statement.

   'The new plan is achievable by companies large and small across the entire supply chain, works with companies' existing information management systems, and supports public health goals as well as provides industry benefits,' she said. 'Implementing this initiative across the industry will require a multiyear transition effort, but is achievable.'

   PTI's inception dates back to 2002, when the Produce Marketing Association and Canadian Produce Marketing Association first began working to address produce traceability by promoting the adoption of standardized processes across the industry.

   Tom Casas, a PTI steering committee member and vice president of information technology and mechanization at Tanimura & Antle, based in Salinas, Calif., said the cost to implement the supply chain tracking standard should be viewed as an investment in enhancing industry practices.

   'This will help our industry and food safety regulators narrow the impact of recalls, protecting both consumers and industry members who aren't directly involved,' Casas said.

   'This is a huge, but necessary undertaking for our industry,' added Steve Grinstead, another PTI steering committee member and president and chief executive officer of Pro*Act in Dallas. 'The good thing about this solution is companies don't need to scrap their current tracking systems, just augment them.'

   Some other large firms and associations involved in the produce tracking initiative are C.H. Robinson Co. of Eden Prairie, Minn.; H-E-B, San Antonio, Texas; National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va.; Pandol Brothers, Delano, Calif.; Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif.; Sysco Corp., Houston; The Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.; and Wegmans Food & Pharmacy, Rochester, N.Y.

   PTI calls for companies to build on their current internal tracking systems by using international standards from the GS1 organization, and two critical pieces of tracking information: a global trade identification number (GTIN), and a lot number.

   'Whereas most information necessary for traceability is already captured during each company's normal business processes (such as the ship to, deliver to, and purchase order number details recorded in shipping documents), the inclusion and tracking of the GTIN and lot number will bring the connectivity between companies and across the supply chain that is currently missing,' the PTI steering committee said. 'The GTIN will identify who the 'brand owner' is (i.e., the company whose brand appears on the produce case) and the type of produce inside; while the lot number specifically identifies the lot or batch from which the produce came.'

   The information will be labeled on each case in human-readable form, so that it can be read and understood by personnel throughout the supply chain, as well as a machine-readable bar code which each member of the supply chain will be able to scan and maintain in their computer systems,' the steering committee said.

   The steering committee has identified steps to implement the produce supply chain tracking by 2012:

   ' By the first quarter of 2009, brand owners will obtain GS1-issued company prefixes required to create GTINs, and assign 14-digit GTINs to every case configuration they pack.

   ' They will then provide those GTINs to their buyers by the third quarter 2009, so that buyers can input this data into their information systems.

   ' By the third quarter 2010, brand owners will begin placing the GTIN and lot number on case labels in human-readable form and machine-readable bar codes.

   ' Each subsequent handler of the case will be able to scan and store the GTIN and lot number on inbound cases in 2011 and outbound cases by 2012.

   The Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh and Canadian Produce Marketing Association plan industry outreach, communications, education and public advocacy.

   While compliance with the produce tracking program is voluntary, PTI Chairman Green expects that 'market forces' will drive the program as buyers demand a produce supply chain which can more quickly and efficiently react to recalls.

   'We encourage companies to follow the timetable as closely as possible to stay on top of the changes that they'll need to make to their current traceability systems,' she said. ' Chris Gillis