Traceability needs 'positive return' approach
U.S. company Intelleflex has received increased interest this year in its RFID (radio frequency identification) products, while the scope for actionable data in the produce industry has increased with the introduction of cellular technology, bypassing dependence on wi-fi infrastructure to monitor food temperature. For CEO Peter Mehring, the industry has done a good job in supporting food safety, but the incentives are still not in place for the few bad eggs. He tells www.freshfruitportal.com if the private sector doesn't rectify this, the government will need to take on a bigger role.
Mehring says the produce industry hasn't kept up with traceability demands because the current system is seen more as a mandate and an overhead rather than an investment.
"Most people feel that their operations are good enough that there’s no benefit to them on traceability; the industry needs to manage food safety and recalls, but 98% of the industry isn’t affected by that so it’s hard sometimes to justify the cost," he says.
"Society understands what's good. Quality safe food is a good resource to have, we all want to trust what we buy, but for the 1-2% misbehaviors we have to put in requirements that protect everyone else as a consumer.
"I’m not a fan of regulating business, I think that business should naturally come to its right level of support quality, but unfortunately this is like managing unruly people who are trying to take advantage of the system."
He says this small percentage of the industry is leveraging off the good work of others to sell unsafe goods.
"In one sense I do think there has to be some very basic level of regulation, but it really has to be minimized and allow other companies to sell their value.
He says the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) has not been sufficiently adopted by the industry, and if this state of affairs continues there is only going to be a higher likelihood of a stronger government role in the process.
"That last step is going to be crucial, and I’m a big believer that it should be run by the industry and not by the government," he says.
"Having the government do it, they don’t really come from the industry, they don’t really understand what’s practical, what protects the food, and unfortunately in a vacuum where no one is doing anything, the government steps in to take that leadership."
Intelleflex promotes traceability through its products on the grounds of freshness and a positive return on investment.
"You can avoid losses in your own shipments, not due to food safety issues but due to management of freshness, and it does all the traceability at no extra cost.
"We're starting to promote a positive return on investment approach to getting traceability information requested and mandated."
He says for traceability to be done well it should be initiated at the grower level.
"So the grower ends up paying the initial charge for it, but it's part of value build behind your brand; in essence you can charge for it because the value of your brand is quality, it’s safety, so you need to establish that and drive that value through.
"I think what’s often missed is that people don’t market their value, but I do think it needs to go back to the grower level – otherwise you don’t have complete traceability, by the nature of how it has to be done."