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  1. New Era of Smarter Food Safety TechTalk Podcast

TechTalk Podcast Episode 1: Tech-enabled Traceability in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety

TechTalk Tech-enabled Traceability in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Panelists
From left to right: Angela Fernandez (GS1 US); Alison Grantham, Ph.D. (IFT); Hilary Thesmar, Ph.D., RD, CFS (FMI)

TechTalk Podcast Main Page

The first Core Element of the New Era for Smarter Food Safety Blueprint establishes goals that involve the use of technology to achieve end-to-end traceability throughout the food safety system. 

In this first podcast, Andrew Kennedy, MBA, Operations Research Analyst in FDA’s Office of Food Policy and Response, and CDR Kari Irvin, MS, Deputy Director of the Office of Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition — co-leads of the Core Element 1 team — discuss with top technology and food industry experts subjects that include the role they envision new technologies playing in improving traceability, and resources available to companies wanting to learn more about tech-enabled traceability.

The experts:

  • Institute of Food Technologists (IFT): Alison Grantham, Ph.D., Global Food Traceability Center
  • FMI: The Food Industry Association: Hilary Thesmar, Ph.D., RD, CFS – Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and SVP Food Safety
  • GS1 US – Angela Fernandez – Vice-President, Community Engagement 

(Note: This podcast  focused on technologies that may be used to improve food traceability. The Food Traceability Proposed Rule, which would, if finalized, establish new traceability record requirements for certain foods, is not discussed.)

Listen (MP3, 19MB)

TechTalk Podcast: Episode 1 – Transcript

Frank Yiannas: Welcome everyone to our first New Era of Smarter Food Safety TechTalk podcast. I am Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. Today's topic, tech-enabled traceability, has been a mission for me over the course of 30 years working to advance food safety in both the private sector and now at FDA. Last year, when we issued the blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, we said that it would be people-focused, FSMA-based, and technology enabled. For this podcast series, we will focus on the tech-enabled side of the equation. We will explore how digital technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and sensor technologies can help improve business process, enable us to better predict and prevent foodborne challenges, and better detect and respond to problems. Tech-enabled traceability is the first of four core elements laid out in our blueprint. Today, I am delighted to turn to our co-leads for Core Element 1, Andy Kennedy and Kari Irvin, to introduce our guests and guide you through what I know will be of very useful and productive discussion. With that, Andy, take it away.

Andrew Kennedy: Thank you, Frank. We’ll speak to you again at the end of today's podcast to provide your takeaways from today's discussion. My name is Andy Kennedy. I’m an operations research analyst in FDA's Office of Food Policy and Response and my focus is on food traceability. Before joining FDA, I led the Institute of Food Technologists’ Global Food Traceability Center and cofounded FoodLogiQ, a food traceability platform for restaurant operators, food companies, and retailers. Today's podcast will focus on three things. First, we will explore the history of tech-enabled traceability. Second, the technologies themselves and how they are being developed and used, and third, the nuts and bolts of how producers and food companies can use these technologies to streamline and strengthen their traceability efforts. Kari, we’ve got three amazing guests. How about you tell us about yourself and introduce them?

Kari Irvin: Thanks Andy.  My name is Kari Irvin. I am deputy director of FDA's Office of Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. In CORE, traceback investigations are an important tool for solving foodborne illness outbreaks. Learning about the advances in traceability systems and technologies is important for the work that my staff and I do to continue improving our traceback processes. Today, I am delighted to be joined by Dr. Alison Grantham of the Institute of Food Technologists’ Global Food Traceability Center, Dr. Hilary Thesmar, chief food and product safety officer and SVP food safety for FMI: the Food Industry Association, and Angela Fernandez, GS 1 U.S. vice president for community engagement. Thank you all so much for joining us today. And as promised, let's start with a brief history on food traceability. So Angela, through your work at GS 1 U.S., you must have seen significant change in the traceability world. Please share your thoughts on that evolution.

Angela Fernandez: Absolutely Kari and thank you. It is a pleasure to join you all today. I appreciate the opportunity to share how industry continues to work within the community to enhance traceability processes. There has certainly been significant progress in the traceability world. Actually, when I began working for GS 1 U.S. in 2001, we were just releasing a new barcode for bulk produce. We see this today when you go to get your fruits and vegetables and you put them into the bag yourself at the grocery store, the little tiny barcode on the PLU sticker. It was at that time that the industry began to recognize that commodity identification was no longer going to meet the needs of business. If you fast-forward into 2006, when the spinach recall truly hit the produce industry, it became apparent that we needed to grow our traceability efforts. It was at that time that the Produce Traceability Initiative was born. We had suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, food service establishments, technology partners, and even our partners here – FMI, PMA, United Fresh, joined us as well --  to discuss how we achieve case traceability within our very complex supply-chain. Most of the industry has very good internal traceability. The challenge has been how do we link this externally? We need global standards. They were created by the industry 50 years ago and that was really what was identified as the essential piece in order to link all of our internal traceability data externally to trading partners. A part of what the initiative was looking to accomplish so that we could share that with each other. And in 2009, the food service industry had asked for support in leveraging standards to help with their strategies, which also included case level traceability to support a lot of the food safety processes and visions they had. This effort was soon followed by the grocery industry that was aligning and focusing on traceability as one of their key priorities as well. When we look back over the past 20 years, industry has moved from commodity identification that we used to do to brand owner identification, which really is kind of a first step where you have to know what you're talking about to get to effective traceability. Then they started working on extending barcodes to cases to be able to include some of that information we can take action on: the lots, the batch, the serial number and looking to enable automation for data collection and capture at many different points in the supply chain. And let's not forget the work that FDA commissioned with the Institute of Food technologists in 2010 where we coined the terms critical tracking events and key data elements which has driven a lot of the work that we have done recently. If you kind of zoom out and look at it from a global perspective, traceability has been on the main stage for the last decade as well. New regulations are being passed in other countries and technology advances that have supported this global discussion. We continue to work hard to help all industry participants understand their role in helping the food system evolve. We believe advancement and in traceability systems and technologies for improving traceback processes will need to be leveraged and supported by all the standards work we are doing with industry.

Kari Irvin: Thank you so much Angela. I appreciate especially the importance of global standards and making linkages. I think this is a great transition to Hilary because you have seen both ends of the supply chain through your work with the Egg Safety Center, the National Turkey Federation, and for the past decade, working with retailers at FMI. So I'm curious to hear how your perspective on traceability has been shaped by those experiences.

Hilary Thesmar: Thank you. It is one supply-chain. It is one global network, like Angela mentioned, but where you are in that network really changes the need for information and it changes your ability to access the information and what you need. So starting my career working in commodities, the agriculture side of things, and some packaged products of course, and now with FMI, with retailers and wholesalers start-to-end in the supply chain, so the challenge with retail and wholesale is having to capture information for every single type of product that they sell and throughout the complex supply chain and also the volumes that we are talking about, so from an egg producer or even a turkey point of view going forward, you can track that product. You can link it back to the farm and the animal and you can track it going forward to the next step in the supply-chain. So then there are multiple steps in the supply-chain and then you get to wholesale and retail having to capture all of that and I think that is where the how becomes more variable but the what is what we can focus on if we have consistent information that is shared, then how we do it can change over time as we advance through either paper-based or digital systems and technology advances. I think the perspective of where folks are in the supply-chain and what information they need access to and how they share it and receive it is the key to think through that from a systems point of view and really simplify everything about that.

Kari Irvin: Thanks for that, Hilary. Alison, similar to Hilary, you began your traceability journey literally at the ground level and ultimately reaching consumers directly. Please share your traceability journey with Blue Apron and now with the IFT Global Food Traceability Center.

Alison Grantham: Thanks. Blue Apron was a unique place to start a traceability journey.  As a young, fast-growing, e-commerce meal kit company, we had the experience of building out both the internal and external traceability capacity, everything from aligning master data that was iterating on inventory and warehouse management systems, implementing supplier management systems and implementing marquee system to enable that within the Blue Apron universe and ultimately downstream to the consumers that we ship to directly. We also, as the director of their food procurement team, implemented all of the supplier-facing standards to ensure that we received the information we would need should there be an outbreak that needed to be managed. And now at the Global Food Traceability Center, I have the opportunity to apply some of those learnings and experiences -- what hardware works, how the software works, how the data gets collected and transmitted from everything from on-boarding of suppliers to what it looks like at the receiving dock to how it moves through a 500,000 square foot fulfillment center and out to a customer, and apply that to broader industry initiatives and challenges. I have had the opportunity to work with IFT and GS 1 U.S. and other partners, PMA, United Fresh on the greens pilots as well as in the seafood vector with a global dialogue on seafood traceability. Applying those learnings to finalizing standards development, creating business-oriented tools to support and enable adoption like an ROI calculator, and helping support and helping industry partners use an IT co-mapping tool to map their supply chains and understand how to implement GDST standard supporting dissemination of code through a GitHub and to developer support through a back-channel as well as a lot of interesting piloting and beta implementation support. We worked with over a dozen seafood supply-chains on piloting as well as beta implementations, actual live implementation of the standard with three very large supply chains and several others in process. So it has definitely been an exciting journey going from Blue Apron from Google sheets to integrated systems and then being able to take that from a single company to multiple industry use cases from produce to seafood.

Andrew Kennedy: That sounds like an amazing journey and it sounds like you've seen a lot of different kinds of technology and how they have played a role in traceability. From your perspective, where do you see where the challenges are?

Alison Grantham: We still see challenges in implementation and lack of interoperability between supply-chain partners. Angela alluded to this and Hilary in both of their comments. One company to another, are they able to access and understand the format of data that their supply-chain partners are using? Are we consistently communicating information? Standards come in handy for helping to resolve that but also having the right hardware to support that data transfer in a way that absolves some of the hesitancy around sharing some sensitive information in places where there could be some incentives against, some business incentives against sharing it. So we see that for instance in a seafood supply-chain sometimes where fishers are open and willing to share data about their catch. Some of the hardware technologies that allow that information to be transmitted directly to processors have been more effective than some that require validation by the traders in between the two folks, the two other nodes in the supply-chain. And there's also always hardware that can be a help in some cases or in other cases, the exact format turns out to be inappropriate. So for instance for one project, they were using some cards which were not waterproof and were not worthwhile in the fishery application. When I was at Blue Apron, we struggled a bit with our warehouse management that relied on QR codes and the scanners did not work well in the freezers. Sometimes the data format can be great but with the hardware itself, but when you get into the wet, messy, cold situations that are typical of food supply-chains, there can be some kinks.

Andrew Kennedy: Understood, Alison. I can imagine that you have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to traceability technology in your journey. Hilary, you have probably seen from a totally different perspective in the retail industry, you mentioned the volumes of product that are coming through retail supply chains. And all the different varieties of products that come through. I am curious what recently promising technologies have you seen and what problems are they actually solving? And for the tech providers who are listening, that are interested in approaching the retail food industry, what should they know before they come talk to you about their solution to all of these challenges?

Hilary Thesmar: Great question, Andy. From the perspective of retail and wholesale at the end of the supply-chain, we have been focused on the data that is captured so I will put them into big buckets and obviously we can tease it down even further but data that is collected by the company and data that is shared with trading partners and partners in the supply chain. So technology should make things easier and should allow us to keep and share the data that we need but it's a tool in order to do that. So the key word that I'm going to use or the buzzword is interoperable and we really need interoperable systems because we are accepting products from so many different places and supply-chains and commodities. Really, we do take in everything at the distribution center and the store level, so the interoperability really has to be there. And in the past 10 or 20 years, the industry has really shifted from paper-based records to digital or electronic records. I see the electronic records advancing and morphing even more, evolving even more. Look at 10 years ago with technology, we are light years beyond that now, so what’s another five or 10 years going to do? So we need to be able to be flexible and to adapt to the changes while keeping the information as simple and as consistent as possible and that is why the standards with GS1 U.S. are so important, the frameworks and architecture system that the IFT Global Food Traceability Center has been working on of the past 10 years now. So we all have to work together since we cannot do it alone but we all have to really focus on the information itself and then be flexible to change as technology changes.

Andrew Kennedy: Interoperability is key Hillary, I totally agree and the transition from paper to digital, it is so important to have those standards so you can share information because it makes no sense to digitize it if you cannot share it across the supply-chain. So Angela, how does your organization help with this? How do you connect to the traceability technology world and what technologies do you see on the horizon?

Angela Fernandez: Great question, Andy. I absolutely agree with Alison and Hilary. Technology is scaling at a rate faster than ever before. I think they’re saying three years is now the new ten.  From the GS1 U.S. perspective, we work closely with a number of technology providers. They are critical because they are the ones who make the standards come to life and enable the implementation to be applied to the real-world use cases that industry is looking for. So I would say technologies that we used to see on the horizon, in many ways, are kind of already here. If you think about blockchain, it was very big a couple of years ago and we were hearing a lot about it from our innovation team as well as our industry members and everyone trying to figure what was and was it really going to solve everything we were looking for and we were able to kind of bring the industry together and determine what use cases it was good for, what learnings we had to share to be able to look at different pilot opportunities because our goal was really around interoperability, as Hillary and Alison highlighted. We want to make sure that as technology continues to advance, the standards are in place and can be leveraged or extended so that we’re not reinventing the wheel. I think Hillary said we want to be able to continue to progress in our technology capabilities and the only way to do that is to have some of that standardized so we do know what we are saying to each other and do have the foundation piece standard within our systems. So we actually today are still working with the industry I think on the second phase of interoperability when it comes to distributed ledger platforms that are being offered by some large technology providers today. We are very hopeful that we are starting to make additional progress on the interoperability piece by leveraging the standards that we are putting in our system so that we can make sure that we have a solution choice for the whole industry and that it truly is scalable so the benefits can be recognized by all of us. I think another thing that I would share is that from a U.S. standards perspective with the GS 1 community, our board actually last spring announced a sunrise date of 2027 for 2-D barcodes at point of sale. This is the direct outcome of the demands on our businesses as well as what our consumers are expecting to have at their fingertips these days when they are purchasing goods. So our team is working with industry to understand what that trajectory is going to look like while also still tracking and investigating the early technologies that are being implemented by the innovators in the first maneuvers when you look at artificial intelligence and the Internet of things and machine learning and even robotics. I would say many of us are still buzzing about a technology where microscopic identifiers can be placed on an item like lettuce so it makes identification persistent well beyond the product's purchase, even after consumption so we can actually have identifiers and eat them too! I think our goal is to really make sure that as we advance our capabilities, we are making sure that we’re continuing to work effectively with our training partners to meet their needs and also delivering to the consumer.

Kari Irvin: Thanks, Angela I think something you said there is really important and that’s the idea of technology being scalable. We know that the food industry is made up of so many different players who are different sizes, they have a different scope, ship different volume, and for some entities, technology can be a really overwhelming, especially technology-enabled traceability, can be a really overwhelming topic. With that, if a food or technology company wants to learn more about tech-enabled traceability, what resources do you provide and do you have to be a technology expert to use them and also are these resources suitable for small or midsize companies or only large firms?

Angela Fernandez: It’s definitely something that we get asked quite a bit as well, understanding the technology capabilities and offerings that are out there as well as the standards themselves are difficult too. As a not-for-profit organization, we cannot recommend any one but we do have resources available where we make it easy for folks to truly understand what options are available and how best to select them irrespective of whether you are a major brand or retailer or a small supplier. So for our membership in the U.S., as you might imagine, over 80% of our members are actually what we refer to as a micro business so their annual revenue is less than $1 million so we have live and on-demand education and training that we offer and we have tools that are online to support members so they don’t have to be the standards expert or know what technology questions to ask. We’ve even got RFP templates for customers to use and we even have a repository of technology providers depending on what is needed so it narrows down the scope a little bit of how they go and look for these but I would say that most importantly for us is our community. We've got a whole group of people of different size companies, different levels of traceability capabilities, so they share case studies with us and they are in workgroups but just understanding what others are doing and learning from them is a tremendous benefit that we offer as well.

Kari Irvin: Thanks for that, Angela. Hilary, I think you are also in a similar position where the retail food industry has a lot of sizes, shapes, varieties and given your broad experience in the food industry, what advice would you give to food producers as they contemplate next steps in their traceability journey and what resources would you point them to either at FMI or elsewhere?

Hilary Thesmar: Thank you, Kari. There's a lot of information that they can keep and share so really it is all about the data. It's about what information is being maintained and what information is being shared. We encourage our members to optimize information in existing systems so if they can, I know for this audience it is probably hard to believe that investing in food safety sometimes is a challenge but it is. But investing in other systems where the ROI might be a little quicker is something we have been talking to our members about and encouraging them. So for example if they can access the same kind of information but link it to the payment system or inventory management and control systems, even shipping records. If they have the information somewhere else that is in a portal or format that is accessible to them and sharable with others, then let’s capitalize on that and make it applicable for food safety also. So we been able to make a little bit more progress in that way. Being flexible is so important. I don't think there's much difference between the size of the companies. All companies are having the same opportunities and challenges that the audience question to me is really about roles within the company so we see different folks within different departments approach the topic of traceability very differently. So food safety is obviously one key audience for traceability discussions. There's also I.T. and procurement and supply chain and logistics. And wherever those folks are and with their background and expertise, they will just approach it a little differently. So I almost think that the resources need to be specific to who the audience is and who you're talking to and what their needs are so that is the way that we approach it. We use resources wherever we can get them. We have been involved with the Global Food Traceability Center since its inception, which is a great resource. GS1 U.S. has also been an incredible resource on traceability because they have shared things such as case studies and implementation plans so it makes it real for our members. Hopefully that sums it up. But I think being flexible and tailoring the information to an audience is really critical and kind of understanding the different needs and perspectives of the folks that you are talking to.

Kari Irvin: Thanks for that, Hilary. And I think you make a really exceptional point about traceability in the food safety realm is really about pulling from existing resources within a company that may fall outside of a food safety group and educating them on how traceability is food safety and how they have a role in it and I think that is a really excellent point. Alison, speaking of bringing people into awareness about food traceability and how it impacts food safety, the Global Food Traceability Center is in a unique position to provide resources and education to communities of people that maybe have a background in food safety but not traceability or vice versa. Please share with us the unique ways the Global Food Traceability Center works with the traceability technology community and what you would recommend for developers who are new to the space or who are not necessarily technology experts.

Alison Grantham: I think one of the foundational things that GFTC offers is a really solid basis in core traceability concepts and helping folks who are maybe developers or coming at it from a different angle understand what is unique identification, how do you achieve unique identification, what does that look like.  What are critical tracking events and key data elements that are core structural underlying traceability systems, and then offering resources and publications that would help members of the tech community or developers familiarize themselves with sector specific CTE/KDE matrices so understanding what and how these concepts apply to various supply-chains, what does it look like for a produce supply-chain, what does it look like for a dairy supply-chain, what does it look like in various proteins or grocery products. So I think those types of instructional pieces are really helpful to the community beyond the seafood specific tools that I referenced earlier with the IT co-mapping tool and the GitHub with relevant code snippets and the slack channel for real-time, live dialogue among developers to troubleshoot, okay, we are trying to implement this GDST standard for a client and what do we need to do for them, where is it going wrong. So those are some of the live resources for that end of the spectrum but we also find ourselves talking with other stakeholders and companies, folks who might be members of the supply-chain team who are trying to make a pitch for a new system or adopting GDST to their executive teams and for them it is about understanding where and how their  current gaps in traceability are costing them and what type of categories they can expect to capture cost savings through implementing higher levels of traceability systems. So are they still taking photographs in jpeg and attaching them into the system and someone is manually transcribing the information in the picture into an actual database. These are things that still happen and so understanding where you are now and what type of information management savings can you expect to experience if you scan something and that information was entered automatically. Or product management -- do you not have visibility to freshness information that, if you had more uniform entry of that then with your uniform supply of that information to all suppliers you could potentially improve your shrink rate and reduce product loss and what could those cost savings look like. So we have a calculator for that that helps businesses understand a little bit more what the business case is too. So yes, I guess I would recommend those types of resources for all the different stakeholders in the community who are looking to understand how do I do this and why do I do this help along with way as well as the pilots and case studies that Hillary mentioned as well.

Andrew Kennedy: Thank you. That's a tremendous list of resources that I'm sure folks listening are looking forward to checking out. We received some questions in response to our outreach about this podcast. We have time for two or three. If you don't mind hanging around for little bit more, we have got a few questions here. The first one, I think probably Angela is best able to answer this one.  With most food and drug products already using a barcode, and the upcoming GS 1 digitally barcode standards allowing for individual product traceability, would you say that traceability solutions are already out there?

Angela Fernandez: Absolutely. Traceability solutions are out there. They are effective in helping companies track and trace. I think Alison mentioned earlier the leafy green traceability pilot that was an effort that the six associations, three of us obviously were involved in late last year, and industry was able to source back to the original products that were in question. I think the thing that we still have to solve for was also talked about which is not all of them are interoperable so we still have gaps that we need to be able to address. But we need to work together so that we can improve the speed and efficiency of traceability and it can be accomplished through greater automation, less manual data entry and more consistent identification across what it is that we are talking about and where we need to be noting that when we are looking at critical tracking events and key data elements. The other piece around digital language actually is a new standard, GS 1 digital-link, we announced it last year but it is a new standard that is delivered in a 2-D barcode that helps the barcode become Web-enabled so that you can deliver dynamic information through just one, single smartphone scan. So it could deliver, for example, traceability information to a store associate or the consumer could be looking at it and it could keep them informed around product expiration. It can also let you know if it has been recalled or any other claim that they may be interested in. I think it all goes back to how do we continue to work on the foundation to make sure we all that data set that we can use inside of our organization and others are able to understand and then the technology would be able to help support us as well.

Andrew Kennedy: I think this one is right up your alley, Alison. How will farmers and others in the food industry in other countries be informed and educated about traceability technologies?

Alison Grantham: There's a variety of ways that can happen in partnerships that IFT and the Global Food Traceability Center engage with to bring those first-mile actors in the supply-chain into the fold because it is very important to bring the primary actors in the supply chain into the fold. So the way that typically happens is through actual pilot projects. So we just wrapped one up last week with tuna fishers in the Philippines where we have been looking at an app for capturing data as well as some other approaches that I mentioned earlier that transponder NFC card moving toward a NFC keychain tag that won’t get obliterated on the ice that they dump on the tuna as alternatives for capturing that first-mile data and transmitting it to the processors. So IFT and the Global Food Traceability Center and our partners come in with what data needs to be captured at that stage in the supply-chain and having that really clearly stated in the standard and we explore different ways that those actors in the first mile could help capture that data and share it with supply-chain partners and see, okay, this one, you're going to need some better power options because people fish for tuna at night and so a solar panel won't cut it for the transponder. We will need some better batteries. Or this app works for fishers but the traders are resistant to using it because of various business incentive issues. I think that it works best when you are doing on the ground, live projects to understand what the physical environment looks like in helping to translate those standards into accessible  tools for first mile actors.

Andrew Kennedy: Hilary, I'm sure you receive this question before. What incentive is there to be an early adopter when other traceability technologies could emerge in the next few years that are more cost-effective and easier to implement?

Hilary Thesmar: I love this question because it gets at the positive.  It gets at why we are doing things and doing for the right reasons and what positive benefit is there.  FDA mentioned this in its New Era blueprint and I think all of us are curious what that's going to be but I think there are some inherent incentives that are part of being an early adopter and early adopters now will likely be early adopters in the future.  But the best benefit that I can think of now is in risk management. Traceability can help you have data points that are critical to your risk management system and how you use that information can be really robust for a company so just by having a robust traceability program, your risk is going to be lower because you know where your product is, you know where it is in the supply-chain, you know how much is out there and you know what is out there so that inherently is going to help you manage your overall risk. And the people in companies who deal with that will see the benefits immediately. The other part is companies who innovate naturally do better because they understand what is important to them, either to be more efficient and also to their customer base. They are going to know how can I use this to share this information with stakeholders and customers and business partners in the supply chain. So I think there's a lot here that we can dive into and figure out. But I think seeing some case studies about the ROI for investing in traceability I think is a great way to start moving forward and to encourage companies to invest in traceability for the right reasons.

Kari Irvin: Thank you Hilary, Angela, and Alison so much for these really great and helpful insights. I want to go ahead and turn it back over to Deputy Commissioner Yiannas and ask him for his take on our discussion today. Frank? 

Frank Yiannas: Thank you, Kari, and you’re absolutely right. Our guests have shown some really impressive insights and I’ve been here listening and taking notes. What the challenge is: What are my takeaways because there are so many? So let me summarize and tell you four things that I heard real clearly. No. 1 is: Tech-enabled traceability is an idea whose time has come. From the conversation today you’ve convinced me it’s inevitable. We’re on this journey and you also heard that we’ve been on this journey for a while and people have been doing traceability on paper for at least a decade. But there are accelerants today that are going to allow us to scale. Those are A. data standards, whether they’re industry, harmonized consensus standards, such as GS1, or the type of critical tracking events or key data elements proposed in FDA’s Food Traceability Rule.  Data standards will allow the food system to speak the universal language of food traceability that will help with the scaling. And Number 2, the role of new and emerging technologies in connecting the dots so that every single participant in the food system certainly has to do their part and we let technology do the rest. As we heard our panelists, I was envisioning that we will see the day when it looks like something equivalent to FedEx tracking of food. So that’s really exciting and encouraging. My second takeaway is that for tech-enabled traceability to scale, interoperability is key. I think the listeners heard that loud and clear, I’ll emphasize: Interoperability is key. As we move from paper to digital, we believe that digital will make traceability easier and having worked for a very large organization myself in the past, I know what’s complex, doesn’t get done, what’s easy to do and happens and what scales. So technology will play a role but it is unlikely for us to see a single technology provider adopt and convince everybody to use their platform. Why is that? The food system is a very large and centralized food system with small, mid-size and large producers all over the country, and all over the planet. There won’t be a one traceability solution fits all so that’s why Interoperability will be key and as long as we clearly structure around data standards, we can remain technology agnostic and allow different technology platforms to interoperate. We all to need to insist upon that. Everybody who is participating in the food system must insist that food traceability has to be interoperable. And the third thing I heard is that there is a strong business and public health case for better food traceability. I heard from some of the panelists that you ought to involve other stakeholders in your organization. If you’re listening in and you work in the food safety department, or logistics or maybe you’re marketers, because food traceability is good for people and its good for business. The benefits are clear. We believe there are food safety benefits like responding to an outbreak or recalling but we also heard suggestions that better food traceability is the equivalent of better transparency and it provides more visibility in the food system and that could lead to supply chain efficiencies and freshness and reduce waste. We all know that every day that you remove from food distribution for fresh product that’s a day of shelf life you give to the customer in terms of freshness. We know if you eliminate anonymity by better food traceability or transparency, you could reduce incidents associated with food fraud or food authenticity and ultimately I think we all know that food traceability and transparency are about consumer trust. And the last one I heard right here at the close is another good one which is better tech enabled food traceability can’t wait. I heard suggestions that you ought to get started now and do a pilot and get out there in the field and see how things are really working. Learn from testing and piloting and continuing to scale. The benefits are there. And you’ve heard that early adopters will be winners. I think if anything, we just look through the largest test on the U.S. food system in over 100 years, the COVID pandemic, while the virus wasn’t transmitted by food, we saw that those supply-chain that were more digital and connected tended to be more noble and resilient food systems again. So again, better tech enabled food systems cannot wait. With that some I would like to bring my first TechTalk to a close and I want to take our co-hosts Andy and Kari who did a fabulous job and I want to thank each of our participants. They were brilliant. Lastly, look at our TechTalk podcast page on fda.gov for updates on our next installment. Together, we can create a safer, more digital and traceable food system. Until next time, thank you for listening.



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