Interested in linking to "Without a trace "?
You may use the Headline, Deck, Byline and URL of this article on your Web site. To link to this article, select and copy the HTML code below and paste it on your own Web site.
Fruits and vegetables too
The problem extends fruits and vegetables, as evidenced by the hepatitis outbreak at Chi-Chi's restaurants last year, which claimed three lives and infected more than 600 before the virus was traced to green onions imported from Mexico. Needless to say, many larger restaurants and food retailers have begun to demand a verifiable trace-back system because of potentially overwhelming liability issues. ConAgra, for instance, demands that the feed yards selling them cattle certify that those cattle have never been fed ruminant feed, while McDonald's now pays a higher price for beef that can be traced back to its original birth herd.
However, most parties involved agree that some logistical and financial hurdles need to be cleared before a nationwide system can be put in place. Even as the USAIP model moves forward, Veneman admits that it's unclear whether there should be a single system organized and funded by the government, or whether USDA simply should set standards that ranchers and the meat industry can apply in a variety of ways. It's also unclear what specific food types would be covered under USAIP. In a recent executive summary of its activities, a USAIP steering committee indicated support for the following species and/or industries: bison, beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, camelids (alpacas and llamas), horses, cervids (deer and elk), poultry (eight species, including game birds), and aquaculture (eight species).
There is also the question of whether one size will fit all. "It's got to work for all producers," Scott Stuart, chief executive officer with the National Livestock Producers Association, recently told MSNBC. "There are roughly 100 million head of cattle in the country, and the average herd size is 30 head. That means there a lot of small guys and some big guys."
And a lot of small budgets and some big budgets. RFID tags currently cost about $3 each, although that price is predicted to fall below below $1 in a national rollout. The overall price looks steep when multiplied by 95 million cattle in the U.S., and the information technology costs behind each could be substantially more. The Holstein Associates estimates the total cost of implementing a nationwide, full-scale RFID program for cattle alone to be $600 million over six years.
Vendors fill the void
While the National FAIR program presumably would provide the national database and model, product vendors are rushing to fill in individual company implementations.
* Syscan International of Quebec (www.syscan.com) in mid-2002 installed an RFID-based tracking system in a slaughterhouse of Les Salaisons Brochu, one of Canada's leading meat companies. In addition to RFID tags on the cattle, Syscan's transponders are located throughout the plant and even are embedded in the metal meat hooks to communicate with the computerized tracking system. At the end of the process, carcass information is included in bar codes for final packing.
* Global Technology Resources, Starkville, Miss., (www.gtechresources.com) combines RFID technology and a web-based global positioning system to track and manage food safety data in real time. "We can pinpoint where contaminants entered the supply chain and isolate the problem within 10 minutes," says President Paul Cheek.
* Agilisys, (www.agilisys.com), an Atlanta manufacturing software company, has a meat industry-inspired system that track meat products and lots throughout the manufacturing process. In the event of a recall, Agilisys solutions help food processors with finite tracking of lot numbers traceable historical recipe data.
In general, system capabilities vary from vendor to vendor. Some systems are designed for use in the rugged "dissassembly" environment of meat and poultry plants, while others are more R&D-oriented and designed to meet the R&D, in-process testing and regulatory requirements of dairy, food and beverage processors, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based vendor Intentia.
Some laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and enterprise quality management (EQM) systems may be of particular benefit to non-meat manufacturers and processors. With LIMs, for instance, Intentia notes that sample information generated by chromatographs and other analytical instruments can be fed into the PC or networks of PCs, then sorted and organized to provide useful reports about ingredients and/or manufacturing processes. Moreover, advanced LIMs offer extensive query and reporting capabilitis, data acquisition and data reduction functionality; many are also Web-enabled and are closely connected to the processes that the lab supports, particularly manufacturing, processing and R&D.
Clearly, a myriad of options are available to food industry members. It's also clear that the sooner traceback systems become a fact of life in the U.S. the better. As this story went to press, a House Committee was challenging USDA's contention that the infected Holstein slaughtered in December was lame -- a significant point, since USDA targets "downer" cattle for testing of mad cow, and because evidence to the contrary suggests that what the industry sees isn't always what it gets.
FoodProcessing.com is the go-to information source for the food and beverage industry. We offer processing best practices as well as new products, equipment and ingredients for food and beverage processors.