After E. Coli Outbreaks, Food Industry Looks to Tracing Tech

Labeling system would pinpoint the source
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2009 1:30 PM CDT
A melon is scanned at a HarvestMark scanner.   (HarvestMark)

(Newser) – In the wake of health scares like the 2006 E. coli outbreak traced to tainted spinach, the food industry is scrambling to reassure the public—and hoping to head off a congressional response, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Voluntary efforts are under way to make tracing easier. For example, one new labeling system gives each product a unique identification code, allowing consumers to trace it to its point of origin.

The system, HarvestMark, is a spin-off of an effort to fight counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals and electronics. "This was a perfect application we had never thought of," a parent company co-founder said of agricultural use. The E. coli scare convinced growers and supermarkets tracing is valuable. “That was really the first time the FDA issued a blanket advisory against a commodity,” says one agricultural researcher. “A lot of growers who couldn’t possibly have been responsible were greatly affected.”