• Open Access


Making Traceability Work

Traceability is not a new concept. For millennia, human beings have attempted to keep track of their belongings and their location. Even today, during the course of a typical day, we go about tracking and tracing our steps, to-do lists, e-mails, voicemails, social networks, medicines, automobiles (especially its keys and parking spots!), as well as our health and well-being, to name a few. However, due to the increasing complexity of the modern world, we don't tend to track and trace everything our lives touch, for example, the origins of the airplane we just flew in, where our electricity and water come from (in some cases), our clothes and other belongings we buy at the mall. Unfortunately, food is also one of those things that we, as consumers, don't actively track and trace (for the most part).

Recent developments across the globe have put an increasing (and deserving) focus on the traceability of foods. Complicated supply chains of hundreds of ingredients that are used to make a food product makes food product tracing a daunting task. In an effort to better protect public health from large scale, rolling and devastating outbreaks and recalls, governments across the world are in the process of implementing new regulations around food traceability. For the purpose of supply chain management and efficiencies, the food industry has taken the initiative to improve their product tracing practices (sadly, doing so in isolation with little coordination or collaboration across all stakeholders). And consumers are increasing demanding better visibility of where the foods they purchase and consume come from, for purposes of buying locally, organically, and sustainably produced foods.

We have attempted to catalyze and jump start the process of achieving a multi-disciplinary, cross-functional, whole community approach to food traceability, with this supplement to the Journal of Food Science. In here, you will find peer-reviewed articles on the proceedings of the 3 Traceability Research Summits conducted by IFT where 50 subject matter experts from across the food and technology sectors convened to discuss firstly, what do we mean by traceability, then how we could pragmatically achieve it, and finally, why was it important to do so. Another article describes a scientific study funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, a Dept. of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, on the capability of food traceability technologies to achieve true interoperability. There is an executive summary of the food product tracing pilots conducted by IFT for the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the need for additional regulatory requirements for improving industry best practices. Finally, there is a white paper on how all this fits together to “make traceability work.” We are hopeful that as new changes roll out from regulators, and enhancements are made to industry best practices, in some small but significant way, it may be traced back to this work.

This supplement is possible due to the sponsors of the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT's) Traceability Improvement Initiative, which include BASF, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF). We appreciate not only the financial donation of these institutions but also their generous support in providing forward-thinking expertise and guidance to our Initiative.