United Fresh, New Zealand’s pan produce industry organisation, is seeking input as part of a project to assess and improv traceability within the $6 billion sector.

The move comes as part of the Sustainable Farming Fund project, ‘Effective Fresh Produce Traceability Systems’ which was launched in 2018, in response to global and local community health scares from food products.

Project director for United Fresh, Anne-Marie Arts says much of the focus has been on how tracking can be shared between each step of the supply chain and across all categories.

“We know that traceability in the New Zealand domestic produce supply chain is not working to a common standard, since each supply chain varies in its management of internal and external traceability, with external traceability working well in some cases, or not at all in others,” says Arts.

There is increasing consumer demand for more confidence in the origin of fruit and vegetables.

“Reliable traceability systems are no longer an optional extra in the produce industry, but a baseline requirement of increasing importance. Sophisticated shoppers as well as national food safety guidelines are providing strong impetus for the fresh produce industry to refine its systems,” says Arts.

The project has resulted in the release of a set of Draft Produce Industry Traceability Guidelines.

Chair of United Fresh’s technical advisory group, Dr Hans Maurer, says the guidelines are an opportunity for the industry to adopt its own traceability practices, an option regarded as preferable to an externally developed system created without industry input.

“We already have world-class produce in our supermarket aisles and world-class operating systems within many individual growing operations, but we see an opportunity to utilise technological advancements to enable data-sharing right across the produce industry, an advancement that would add value without generating significant costs to either consumer or grower.

“International markets are an important element of the industry’s strategic marketing effort. We need to demonstrate a high level of competence in food safety traceability efforts within our export supply chains as well as our domestic supply chain networks,” says Maurer.

Growers, packers, wholesalers, marketers and retailers across New Zealand have all been asked to comment and offer feedback on how the draft guidelines can be further improved before its final version is published in 2021.

The consultation is expected to be completed by mid-October and United Fresh intends to follow the formal feedback process with a series of workshops to further explore the implications of the draft guidelines.