The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Tuesday released a guide for dairy processors that aims to improve product traceability, global competitiveness and satisfy upcoming requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The Center says the guidelines – which are voluntary – may also help in the event of a food safety issue by protecting public health and preventing brand damage.
Though the guidelines do not affect practices used by producers, the Center says they could increase consumer confidence in the safety of dairy products and enhance global trade opportunities.
Five of the leading U.S. dairy processors – Darigold, Glanbia Foods, Hilmar Cheese, Leprino Food and Michigan Milk Producers Association – have each signed on to adopting the voluntary traceability standards. They account for more than 20% of all U.S. milk production.
The Center has suggested a goal of 80% by this time next year. Dermot Carey, chairman of the Innovation Center's Traceability Subcommittee, which developed the best practices, says the goal is attainable.
"As an industry, we want to be the global leader for dairy traceability," he explains. A few of the key guidelines include: modeling physical plants to know where new lots enter and when products transform; creating a lot identifying mark that will be recognized and used by customers; and enhancing record-keeping to allow for better recall capability.
More information is available on the Center's website and in the full document, "Guidance for Dairy Product Enhanced Traceability."
Pilot study proved effective
The recommended changes were based on a pilot study that encompassed processors of all sizes. Though many already have traceability measures in place, the new guidelines have established a national, industry-wide best practice program that the Center expects will enhance standing individual policies.
"Because traceability is part of the increasing price of admission to compete both domestically and globally, these practices are in the best interests of processors and the entire dairy industry," Carey explains.
He says one processor in the pilot program reported that better traceability improved record-keeping and provided a better understanding of what goes into every product.
Carey reports the program also created better labeling consistency and led to a more efficient flow of work between business groups, increasing the speed from materials to finished product.
"Traceability increased ROI," he says.
Food Safety Modernization Act
The new voluntary guidelines appear just ahead of FDA's completion of a comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act, touted as one of the most far-reaching reforms to food safety guidelines in 70 years.
"With Congress and the FDA putting so much attention on food safety in general and traceability in particular, it's just smart business to get in front of this issue now," Carey says.
FDA last month extended the comment period for the FSMA until November 13. The law, which was signed by the President in January, 2011, has been in the lurch for some time. A legal complaint filed by a food safety advocacy group this spring finally got the ball rolling, when a federal court ruled that the FDA had until May to release suggested rule language.