New labeling system hopes to improve food traceability
Tracking from fork to field. To help public health officials find the source of future food poisoning outbreaks, a pilot program called HarvestMark is attempting to provide a new level of traceability for fresh produce. During harvest or packing, a uniquely-coded sticker is applied to the packaging or to the item itself while information about the produce — where and when it was harvested, where it was packed, etc. — is entered into a database. In the event of a cluster of food poisoning cases, public health officials could theoretically determine the source of the pathogen-laced food by finding the code in the database. A good idea, to be sure, but not one that will provide perfect traceability. For example, if the label can't be found it isn't helpful — consider the case of someone who ate contaminated strawberries at a picnic on Saturday, threw the label into the garbage at the park, and started showing symptoms on Monday morning. Expect to see more programs like this one as big buyers, produce trade associations and government regulations, demand more produce traceability. (San Francisco Chronicle)
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