Product Tracing Needed to Protect Us from Foodborne Illnesses


Cover enough salmonella or E. coli outbreaks, and you become intimately familiar with the “T” word: traceback. 

The term refers to the process federal inspectors use to determine exactly where contamination occurred in the food supply chain. 

Recent recalls highlight the critical need for an effective product tracing system, according to the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a Chicago-based organization that represents food scientists and related professionals. 

“Product tracing is a critical part of the food safety legislation that is currently under review because it serves to protect and improve the food supply—not only here in the United States, but throughout the global food system,” says IFT Vice President Will Fisher. 

An IFT expert panel noted in a recent report: “The safety of the food supply requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort among all stakeholders throughout the system from farm to fork, including growers, farm workers, packers, shippers, transporters, importers, wholesalers, retailers, government agencies, as well as consumers.”


An effective system would protect the public’s health, while boosting consumer confidence. 

The IFT specifically recommends: 

  • Creation of a standard list of key data or information to be collected
  • Standardization of formats for expressing the information
  • Identification of the points along the supply chain, internally and between partners, where information needs to be captured 
  • Comprehensive recordkeeping that allows the linking of information both internally and with partners 
  • Use of electronic systems for data transfer 
  • Inclusion of traceability as a requirement within audits
  • Required training and education on what compliance entails

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