Fresno State Group Completes Study on Food Traceability

July 30, 2008 2:09:20 PM PDT
An unsolved Salmonella outbreak continues to baffle investigators and worry consumers. A Fresno State research group has just completed a two-year study on food traceability.Sometimes tracing a product's path from the farm to the fork is very simple. But without a uniform standard across the country, food safety problems can be difficult to trace.

Some produce like lettuce can be traced to specific fields and even harvest crews. The technology is in place. But Mickey Paggi from the Center for Ag Business said an industry-wide upgrade would come at a steep price and likely raise food costs. Paggi has just completed a study on food traceability. He said "The problem is to get that technology broadly accepted across all producers is difficult because it's expensive. The system that we looked at cost over 250-thousand dollars to implement."

Some food sources are more difficult to trace than others. Paggi said "It's just easier to ear-tag a cow or put an RF id tag on an animal than it is to put on an individual nectarine."

The Fresno-based California Tomato Growers is calling for an investigation of the FDA. The FDA issued a warning because of a Salmonella outbreak but later determined tomatoes weren't the source. Jalapeno peppers from Mexico are now suspected.

Ed Beckman of the California Tomato Growers said "We're going to raise the issue that if the industry is able to provide documented traceability on tomatoes in matter of minutes or hours why did this investigation go long as it did."

Those who sell produce at local farmer's markets say they haven't been hurt but believe the tomato industry will continue to suffer. Rolinda farmer Claudia Sersland said "Once grocery stores, restaurants take them off their menu or shelf it takes a long, long time to get that produce buyer or restaurant buyer to put it back."

Ed Beckman estimates the tomato industry suffered a 100-million dollar loss as a result. Beckman is in Washington DC. He will testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday. He says restaurants should have mandatory trace-back capabilities.

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