Organic lettuce greens seedlings in Mohawk Valley, New York.
November 13, 2020
Albany, NY

State Agriculture Commissioner Announces Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force to Support Growth of New York Farms and Strengthen Food System

State Agriculture Commissioner Announces Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force to Support Growth of New York Farms and Strengthen Food System
Will Further Advance the State’s Produce Tracking and Tracing System to Expedite Investigations Foodborne Illness
Delivers on Governor’s 2020 State of the State Initiative; Builds on New York’s Leadership in Food Safety and Agricultural Practices

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today announced the members of the Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force, which met for the first time Thursday. The task force, which is made up of New York farmers and representatives from produce distributors and retailers, was first announced as part of the Governor’s 2020 State of the State address and will build on New York’s leadership in food safety practices. The task force will review and make recommendations to further advance New York’s tracking and tracing system for produce grown in the State. An improved system will help consumers to more easily identify where products were grown and processed and allow the State to more quickly trace the origin of a product during foodborne illness investigations.

Commissioner Ball said, “We look forward to the work of this taskforce as a next step in the evolution of our food safety mission. Food safety is everyone’s business, and this task force consists of all parts of the produce supply chain— from the farmer that grows our fruits and vegetables to the distribution center that sorts and/or bags it to the retailer who sells it. Understanding the sophisticated tracking systems that are already in place and how those systems communicate throughout the supply chain is key to supporting our farms, strengthening our food system, and reducing foodborne illness.

Currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require a tracing system for produce. Unlike manufactured products, which are traceable through serial numbers, consumers generally cannot identify where fresh produce was grown. In addition to the health and safety risks, this is costly to the entire supply chain, from the producers to retailers. The task force will analyze today’s existing tracking and tracing system, identify potential gaps and areas in need of improvement, and recommend uniform operating standards and practices for each point of the supply chain. This will provide consumers with more information about the source of the food they eat and expedite investigations of foodborne illness.

The members of the Task Force are:

  • Dr. Elizabeth Bihn, Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Mike Durant, Food Industry Alliance
  • Steve Ball, Wegmans
  • Jim Calvin, New York Association of Convenience Stores
  • Michael King, Krasdale Foods
  • Renee St. Jacques, New York Farm Bureau
  • Dale Ila Riggs, New York State Berry Growers Association
  • Bethany Wallis, Northeast Organic Farming Association
  • Joy Crist, Crist Bros. Orchards
  • Jim Bittner, Bittner-Singer Farm
  • Paulette Satur, Satur Farm
  • Steve and Angela Karr, Pride Pak
  • Erica Battisti, Stewarts Shops
  • Michael Muzyk, Baldor Specialty Food
  • Jim Hans, Driscoll’s
  • Kaari Stannard, NYS Apple Sales
  • Luke George, Upstate Growers & Packers
  • Dirk Biemans, Intergrow
  • Alisha Albinder, Hudson River Fruit Packers
  • Darby Greco, NYS Department of Health

The Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force builds on New York State’s leadership in food safety initiatives. The Department adopted parts of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) in 2016 and has been working with the food supply chain to implement these proactive and preventative measures for the harvesting, manufacturing, and holding of all food types, including produce normally consumed raw.

In addition, in 2016, the Governor launched the NYS Grown & Certified program, which is administered by the Department. The NYS Grown & Certified program certifies New York’s farmers for growing and producing food to a higher standard in the areas of food safety and environmental sustainability. The food safety requirements for participation in the NYS Grown & Certified program include third-party food safety audits, such as the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), Safe Quality Food (SQF), British Retail Consortium (BRC) certification.

Betsy Bihn, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University Director of the Produce Safety Alliance, said, “New York State’s focus on traceability through the Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force is truly forward thinking. With the FDA proposing to establish additional traceability recordkeeping requirements, it is imperative to understand current practices as well as any challenges that are preventing effective produce traceability from farm to fork. As the Cornell CALS representative, I am grateful to have the opportunity to facilitate this discussion as this work is important for food safety, but also important for NY growers and consumers.”

Mike Durant, President/CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of NYS, Inc., said, “New York’s retail food industry is committed to ensuring quality products to our customers and promoting food safety is paramount to that effort. As the industry evolves, so too does the entire food supply chain. This task force will be a collaborative effort to both further advance best practices in food safety and help preserve public trust. We are pleased to be part of this important effort.”

The Department, through its various divisions and programs, promotes New York agriculture and its high-quality and diverse products, fosters agricultural environmental stewardship, and safeguards the State’s food supply, land and livestock to ensure the viability and growth of New York’s agriculture industries.

The Department operates the Great New York State Fair, and administers the Taste NY initiative and New York State Grown and Certified program. Follow the Department on its Facebook page and on Twitter.