Heartburn Over Tracking Foods

Posted April 12, 2013 at 5:12pm

Food exemptions aren’t just an issue with the proposed produce standards. The question has now come up as to whether all food producers should conduct record keeping that could make it easier for investigators to track products from farm to fork.

A provision in the Food Safety and Modernization Act (PL 111-353) would limit new record-keeping requirements to foods that are deemed at higher risk of being contaminated, according to the Food and Drug Administration. However, a study commissioned by the agency says that the requirements should apply to all foods, regardless of risk classification.

The report by the Institute of Food Technologists, which conducted a series of pilot projects required by the law, warns that foods now considered low risk eventually could be considered higher risk.

“FDA may ultimately be involved in investigating outbreaks associated with ‘non-high-risk’ foods,” the report says. “Additionally, it is noteworthy that high-risk ingredients may be used in lower risk products, and vice versa.”

But Ricardo Carvajal, a lawyer with Hyman, Phelps and McNamara who advises the food industry on federal regulations, says the FSMA is clear that low-risk foods should be exempt.

“Imposing requirements based on risk helps to ensure that the benefits of those requirements outweigh their significant costs — a constraint that Congress explicitly included” in the law, Carvajal wrote in a blog post.

The FDA is taking comment on that and other issues related to the section of the law that was designed to improve the tracking of foods. The law requires the agency to report to Congress on findings from the pilot projects and also to provide recommendations for how to improve tracking.

The IFT study includes 10 recommendations, among them that every member of the supply chain be required to develop and follow product-tracing plans. The institute ran 14 mock product traces, both backward and forward, ranging in complexity. The process “was complicated and often times confusing,” slowed by inconsistencies in terminology, numbering systems, formatting and other issues, the study found.