Traceability is intrinsically linked to public health protection. Traceback investigations represent an attempt to reconstruct the food supply chain for one or more foods suspected in an outbreak, with the objective of finding a common location, ingredient, or product. Since it is impractical to assume that a foodborne outbreak will never occur, it is critical to have strong traceability systems in place to rapidly identify the specific food implicated in illness, so that any remaining contaminated product can be expeditiously removed from the distribution system. Regulators must be “fast and right”. The pressure to be fast can push agencies to act on less definitive information and therefore with less certainty in the name of protecting public health. The need to be right can result in reluctance to act until more certainty can be had but also possibly resulting in more exposures to contaminated food and more illnesses. When traceability is lacking due to limited recordkeeping, more cases of identified human illnesses are often needed to identify a common grower or manufacturer of the suspect food item in the supply chain in order to collect enough evidence to define a common point of convergence. Improvements in traceability will help regulators be both fast and right, resulting in the greatest public health protection.
KeywordsTraceability Public health Outbreak Foodborne illness Product tracing
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