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Feasibility Study of Automated Full-Chain Traceability Systems to Improve Food Safety, Quality and Productivity of Specialty Crops

Ling, Qingyue
Oregon State University
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The specific goal for this planning grant is to bring university researchers and industrial collaborators together to identify objectives and tasks for developing an integrated research proposal for developing a full-chain traceability system for specialty crops. The outcome of this planning proposal will be:
  1. Formation of a multi-state research team and collaborative partnership among universities, state government agencies, specialty crop growers, shippers, processors, distributors/retailers, and technology providers;
  2. Education of specialty crop growers/producers, processors, and retailers resulting in a better understanding of traceability systems and emerging technologies and how these can be applied to improve food safety, quality and productivity of specialty crops;
  3. Identification of the critical needs and priority areas of specialty crops traceability systems;
  4. Appointment of PDs, Co-PDs, and collaborators for the 2011 Specialty Crop Research Initiative full grant proposal;
  5. Identification of research objectives and tasks
  6. Development of research plans for each objective and task
  7. Development of a Specialty Crop Research Initiative full proposal.
More information
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The outbreak of E. coli in fresh spinach from California in the fall of 2006 and the recent outbreak of Salmonella in peanut butter products from Georgia in December 2008 are just two of 350 outbreaks each year from contaminated foods in the United States. They not only presented threats to public health, but also diminished consumer confidence in U.S. food production systems and caused significant economic loss to the involved food companies due to recalls. President Obama's recently formed Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) and two 2009 federal legislation bills on food safety and protection (S. 510 and H.R. 2749) are clear indications of the U.S. government's determination to improve food safety and protect public health. Among those efforts, improving food traceability systems is identified as one of the most critical tasks, since current systems are often inadequate to respond to these outbreaks and are sometimes inaccurate in identifying contamination sources. Current government regulations and guidelines for traceability systems primarily focus on food safety and recalls. Many small and mid-size growers and food processors consider implementation of traceability systems as another burden to their business and have less incentive to actively implement new traceability systems, especially in the specialty crops industries. Unlike commodity crops such as wheat and corn, specialty crops are often unique in their production systems. The specialty crop growers are usually relatively small in scale, tend to be labor-intensive and have less automated production systems. They are more isolated and dispersed over large areas compared to commodity crops. Their production systems vary greatly due to the wide variation in specialty crops, from fruits to vegetables, herbs to hops, and berries to nursery crops. These differences increase the vulnerability of specialty crops and also present greater challenges for effective tracking and tracing The long term goal of this research proposal is to develop and collect the necessary information for future implementation of effective automated traceability systems to improve food safety (recalls), quality and productivity of U.S. specialty crop industries. An automated full-chain traceability system will not only reduce the amount of labor and time in data collection but also improve the accuracy of the data with time stamps and product locations. As a result, it will make the supply chain more visible and create more efficient management systems for inventory, shipping and receiving. A key point of this project is that it will investigate the economic and technical feasibility of how emerging technologies can be applied to improve the effectiveness of automated traceability systems in terms of food quality, productivity and energy efficiencies in addition to food recalls. By doing so, it will provide incentives for the specialty crop industries to implement full-chain traceability systems.

APPROACH: To achieve these objectives, a 3-day industrial needs assessment meeting will be undertaken. The first day will be used to conduct a traceability workshop. It will invite traceability solution providers and multi-university researchers to give overall views of current traceability systems in the food industry and also give an update on the new emerging technologies that are used in tracking and tracing, as well as recent developments in government regulations and guidelines on food safety and traceability. The second day will focus on industrial needs for traceability. Industrial collaborators will be working together in different interest groups such as growers, processors, and distributors/retailers. Each group will discuss their needs and problem areas related to existing traceability systems. A real-time survey about industrial views and current practices will be conducted to help understand traceability systems in specialty crop industries from growers to retailers. At the end of the day, university researchers should get enough feedback or input from the industry about their problem areas and critical needs in traceability. In addition, those industrial participants that are interested in our full research proposal will be able to sign up as research collaborators. All industrial collaborators will finish their meeting in the first two days. The third day will be scheduled only for university researchers or project PDs and Co-PDs to discuss and identify specific objectives and tasks for the full proposal based on the industrial input and identified needs. First, research priority areas will be determined by the research team. Second, specific research objectives or tasks will be discussed and determined. If needed, additional researchers may be added to the multi-state and trans-disciplinary research team. Third, a proposal development plan will be made and the role of each researcher will be determined based on their expertise areas.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Bacterial Pathogens
Nuts, Seeds