Tracking your food
One solution for ensuring food safety: A website that allows you to track food items from the farm to the grocery store.
The following is a partial transcript; for full story, listen to audio.
Most people have no idea where their food comes from, and normally don’t think about it until something goes wrong.
Last winter, 700 people got sick from tainted peanut products. Last year, 1,400 people got sick from salsa. Initially tomatoes were blamed for the bad salsa, but further investigation led to peppers being the culprit.
Now the food industry and Congress are looking for ways to electronically track food.
Elliott Grant is founder of YottaMark, a company that works with suppliers to track food from the farm to the grocery store. The food is tracked with the company's HarvestMark label.
"The labels are put on food at the field or in the packing shed, and there's a little number on that label," Grant explained. "And when the consumer goes to the website, harvestmark.com, they can just type that number in and click 'Trace' and it will tell that person all about the food -- where it's from, if its fresh, and critically, whether it's safe."
On the website, the "Food Safety Status" of the item being tracked will let consumers know whether there has been any issues reported with the item, or if there was a recall.
This is especially helpful when there is a large scale recall of a food product says Grant. "Consumers might hear on the radio or on TV that there's a problem with grapes, but they don't know if the ones they've got are affected."
While food growers and suppliers do keep records of food items, those records aren't centralized. Grant says the salsa incident was a prime example of how this makes it difficult for government agencies to deal with food safety problems.
"Tomatoes are picked, they get packed by somebody else; they may be repacked again, and maybe then sliced and packed by a third company. Problem was, the information didn't pass down the chain very efficiently. When the FDA or the CDC wanted to find out what was the origin of those tomatoes in that salsa, they couldn't find out very quickly."
Recently, The Department of Health and Human Services was able to track only five of 40 food items from a grocery store back to the farm. A bill currently pending in the Senate would require better rules for record keeping in the food industry.
Bill HR2749, says Grant, will require that the Department of Agriculture have the ability to trace a product back to its source within two days. "And behind that, is the expectation that the industry is going to have electronic record keeping."
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