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Restaurateurs expected to shape new produce-tracking initiative

NEWARK Del. Such foodservice powerhouses as McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Sysco and U.S. Foodservice are helping to craft a new multi-industry initiative that will boost food safety by tracking produce shipments more precisely, according to organizers of the effort.

Known as the Produce Traceability Initiative, the attempt at better tracking is sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and the U.S.-based United Fresh Produce Association. Its aim is to find ways of pinpointing the sources and current locations of produce that is suspected of posing a food safety threat, perhaps because greens from the same batch were implicated in an outbreak or tested positive for a pathogen.

“It is evident that we must help drive a more comprehensive industrywide commitment to trace-back and trace-forward systems that can be used throughout the produce supply chain,” said Cathy Green, chief operating officer of the supermarket chain Food Lion LLC and chairperson of the PTI’s steering committee. “A preventative food safety system begins with a sound, whole-chain traceability system that allows us to rapidly trace product movement up and down the supply chain.”

Representatives of McDonald’s, the industry’s largest quick-service chain, and Applebee’s, the most extensive casual-dining chain, have agreed to serve on the steering committee, along with delegates from the trade’s two biggest distributors, Sysco and U.S. Foodservice. The 30-person group also comprises executives of agricultural and food-retailing companies, including The Kroger Co. and Wal-Mart. Organizers said they have invited other food-industry stakeholders to join the committee, including the National Restaurant Association and International Foodservice Distributors Association. Its first meeting is slated for Jan. 9.

The formation of steering committee action follows multiple foodborne-illness outbreaks tied to fresh produce during the past decade, including a deadly E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in 2006 that was traced to bagged spinach.

Organizers said the steering committee’s action plan may call for the promotion of best practices up and down the produce supply chain; the establishment of timelines and goals for adoption of the safeguards; and the creation of some verification system, to instill accountability.

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