by Marion Nestle
Apr 3 2009

Can food products be traced? Not easily.

In 2005, the FDA required certain categories of manufacturers to keep records about the source, transporters, and recipients of their products.  Recently, the Inspector General of the FDA’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, conducted an exercise to see whether traceability was working.  Inspectors bought 4 samples of 10 different food products (e.g., bottled water, oatmeal, tomatoes) at retail stores and attempted to track their supply chains.  Oops.  It only could trace 5.  For another 31, it could make educated guesses.  But nearly 60% of food facilities handling these products could not complete the tracing and 25% did not know they were supposed to.

The FDA, says the Inspector General, needs statutory authority to require producers to know their supply chains and everybody involved needs some education about how to do this.  No wonder we are still getting daily recalls of products containing peanut better.  Statutory authority means Congress.  I wish Congress would get busy on this!

  • Chelsea

    Would you consider doing a book about the peanut butter recalls? I know that Pet Food Politics underscored a lot about the recall system and the FDA’s ineffectiveness, but I would be interested in reading a PB recall -based book concerning the Obama administration’s outlook on food policy and the ways we could start tracing supply chains (such as the editorial in NY Times suggesting more technologically advanced methods).

  • Marion

    @ Chelsea–I wrote Pet Food Politics as a cautionary tale that if we didn’t clean up the food safety system, these things would affect human food and would continue to happen. It’s awful to be right all the time, but there you have it. I see the peanut butter recall as identical to the pet food recalls and proving my case. It’s too early to see how the Obama administration will deal with such things and I will leave that book for someone else to write. I’ve got two books in the works as it is and that’s all I can manage for now. But thanks for suggesting!

  • I have posted a response at the link below. It was too long for this comment. In summary:

    I believe that FDA statuatory authority may take time and that presssure of public opinion fueled by social media may be a more effective way to get manufacturers practicing better food safety.

    Anton Xavier