Government regulation in the grocery industry has long been viewed as a necessary evil by operators. Going back to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which among other things required ingredients to be listed on labels, retailers and their suppliers have had to comply with new requirements that often bit into their already slim margins. 

The subsequent Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which established the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to oversee the safety for a myriad of consumer products, again caused trading partners to make significant operational and management changes to meet the letter of the law.

The latest government effort to regulate the grocery industry is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011, and the last part of that law enacted is Section 204, which is seen as a crucial component of the comprehensive legislation aimed at enhancing the safety of the U.S. food supply. Understanding the intricacies of this section is essential for retailers to ensure compliance and contribute to a safer food supply chain.

At its core, Section 204 focuses on recordkeeping as a means to trace and track food products throughout the supply chain. The objective is to enable rapid response in the event of a food safety concern, allowing authorities to pinpoint the source and take corrective action promptly. For businesses in the food industry, adherence to the specific requirements outlined in Section 204 is not only a legal obligation but is considered a fundamental responsibility to public health.

“Section 204 will speed the shift towards more stringent traceability standards across categories. Retailers need to start formulating thorough traceability plans now. The mandatory offering of traceability information to the FDA within 24 hours, particularly during outbreaks or recalls, adds a new layer of urgency to reporting procedures. This likely involves the adoption of advanced inventory management systems capable of handling traceability data,” said Joe Smirlies, senior vice president of product management at Invafresh, a retail technology company focused on the management of fresh foods.

Food traceability list covered by Section 204

  • Cheeses other than hard cheeses
  • Crustaceans fresh and frozen
  • Cucumbers fresh
  • Finfish fresh and frozen
  • Fruits fresh-cut
  • Herbs fresh
  • Leafy greens fresh
  • Leafy greens fresh-cut
  • Melons fresh
  • Molluscan shellfish, bivalves fresh and frozen
  • Nut butters
  • Peppers fresh
  • Ready-to-eat deli salads refrigerated
  • Shell eggs
  • Smoked finfish refrigerated and frozen
  • Sprouts fresh
  • Tomatoes fresh
  • Tropical tree fruits fresh
  • Vegetables other than leafy greens fresh-cut

This article is an excerpt from the March 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Navigating Change Part 2 feature and more in the digital edition here.