Thirty-four companies from throughout the produce supply chain have endorsed a new plan developed by the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) to move the supply chain to a common standard for electronic produce traceability by the end of 2012.

The plan involves adopting a standardized system of case bar-coding for all produce sold in the United States to allow product to be tracked throughout the distribution chain. The plan will maximize the effectiveness of the industry’s current traceability procedures, improve internal efficiencies and assist public officials when they need to quickly trace back a product.

Intended to enhance overall supply chain traceability in speed and efficiency, a standardized system could significantly improve the industry’s ability to narrow the impact of potential recalls or similar problems.

The PTI is administered by Produce Marketing Association (PMA), United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh), and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA).

The 34 companies endorsing the plan are members of the PTI’s supply chain-wide Steering Committee. Established in late 2007 to establish industry traceability best practices and set goals for their adoption and accountability, the PTI Steering Committee has been working since then to develop a plan for moving industry to chain-wide, electronic traceability.

“We’ve seen the need for supply chain-wide, electronic traceability across the industry so that we’re able to trace product more quickly and efficiently than we can now,” said PTI Steering Committee Chair and Food Lion, LLC Chief Operating Officer Cathy Green.

“The new plan is achievable by companies large and small across the entire supply chain, works with companies’ existing information management systems, and supports public health goals as well as provides industry benefits. Implementing this initiative across the industry will require a multi-year transition effort, but is achievable.”

The PTI’s genesis dates back to 2002, when PMA and CPMA first began working to address produce traceability by promoting the adoption of standardized, state-of-the-art processes across the industry. The PTI’s plan will maximize the effectiveness of the industry’s current traceability procedures, improve internal efficiencies and assist public officials when they need to quickly trace back a product.

Steering Committee member Tom Casas, vice president of information technology and mechanization at Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif., noted that electronic traceability will offer new-found benefits to the produce supply chain, stressing that the increased cost should be viewed as an investment in the industry, and another step toward enhancing industry practices.

“This will help our industry and food safety regulators to narrow the impact of recalls, protecting both consumers and industry members who aren’t directly involved,” said Casas.

“This is a huge, but necessary, undertaking for our industry. The good thing about this solution is companies don’t need to scrap their current tracking systems, just augment them,” said Steering Committee member Steve Grinstead, president and CEO of Pro*Act, Dallas.

In addition to endorsement by the boards of directors of both PMA and United Fresh, the following companies have endorsed the plan to date:

Amerifresh, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Ballantine Produce Co., Inc., Reedley, Calif.

C.H. Robinson Co. Worldwide, Eden Prairie, Minn.

Consumers Produce Co., Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa.

Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.

Driscoll's, Watsonville, Calif.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., Oviedo, Fla.

Food Services of America, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.

Fresh Express, Salinas, Calif.

Fresh Innovations, LLC, Yuma, Ariz.

Friedman's Freshmarkets, Butler, Pa.

Frontera Produce, Ltd., Edinburg, Texas

H-E-B, San Antonio, Texas

International Foodservice Distributors Association, McLean, Va.

L&M Companies, Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

Mann Packing Company, Inc., Salinas, Calif.

National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va.

Naturipe Farms, LLC, Salinas, Calif.

Pandol Brothers, Inc., Delano, Calif.

Pro*Act, Dallas, Texas

Procacci Brothers Sales Group, Philadelphia, Pa.

Safeway, Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.

Schnuck Markets, Inc., St. Louis, Mo.

SUPERVALU/W. Newell Co., Urbana, Ill.

Sysco Corp., Houston, Texas

Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif.

The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, Ohio

The Oppenheimer Group, Coquitlam, B.C., Canada

Tom Lange Co., Inc., Springfield, Ill.

U.S. Foodservice, Inc., Rosemont, Ill.

UniPro Foodservice, Inc., Roswell, Ga.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark.

Wegmans Food & Pharmacy, Inc., Rochester, N.Y.

CPMA supports the enhanced implementation of traceability in the United States via this initiative, and will continue to support those members who move to implement the action plan to meet U.S. market needs.

“I invite every member of the supply chain to join with these industry leaders who have already agreed to take the necessary steps to help fulfill this important initiative,” said Green.