When CNN’s Lou Dobbs rails against an issue, he gets a lot of attention. But awareness alone isn’t enough to solve our problems. We need action. So when I heard newsman Dobbs criticize the food industry because of its so-called mishandling of the recent contamination episode with jalapeño peppers, I had to speak up. Especially when he and other analysts condemned food processors for fighting against country-of-origin labeling, which, in the analysts’ opinions, will help make our food supply safer.

First, country-of-origin labeling is not the same as track-and-trace. Not by a long shot. COOL simply identifies the origin of a product. Track-and-trace provides a record of a product (and its components) as it moves through the supply chain.

Second, COOL would only provide a small advantage in speeding up a recall by narrowing the initial search. But it wouldn’t help a bit in pinpointing the source of a contamination unless you buy from only one company in that country.

Third, COOL gives consumers almost useless information from a food safety point of view. If contaminated product originated from one farm in Country X, you know consumers would stop buying any product from any company from Country X well beyond the timeframe of any potential risk.

That all being said…We still need more action than me just spouting off. Face it: The food industry needs better track-and-trace capability than is currently required by the Bioterrorism Act or COOL regulation. Yes, it’s going to cost and, yes, it’s going to be hard to pass those costs on. But, it is going to save lives and, ultimately, will help you sell more product by improving consumers’ trust in their food supply.

Plenty of electronic or automated solutions exist, such as bar coding, taggants (primary used for anti-counterfeiting) and even radio frequency identification (RFID), which may see renewed interest.

There’s been some talk, though, that the government might mandate the type of technology to use. OMG! Hurry, band together and make it clear that, while it’s OK for the government to dictate what needs to be done, industry should control the how to do it. It’s the only way you can manage the cost of implementation. F&BP