The banana that I just ate 15 minutes ago came from one of three farms that make up MarPlantis, S.A in Ecuador. MarPlantis is owned by The Molina family, and it’s been certified organic since 2005. It’s the newest organic banana supplier for Dole Ecuador. If I want to, I can view their USDA organic certification online.

How do I know all this?

Traceability. It’s a concept that is being embraced by more and more food manufacturers like Dole so that consumers can trace the origins of their food. Not just to a country. Not just to a state. But to a farm and a farmer.

It’s not just consumers who are interested in traceability. The government is interested, too. If there were more traceability rules in place, the origin of the salmonella found in peanuts earlier this year might have been found more quickly. And with this week’s newest pistachio recall, reported yesterday by MNN’s Jenn Savedge, traceability is bound to become even a hotter topic.

Another manufacturer taking the lead in traceability is of Stone-Buhr, a maker of flour products. They’ve created Find the Farmer, a website that allows consumers to locate the family farms that grew the grain they use to mill their flour. They explain why they’ve created this program on their website. Once consumers find the farmers who grew the grains in the flour they bought, they can read about the individual farmers and their farms. They can even ask questions through the website.

A recent New York Times article about Find the Farmer reports that Congress is debating traceability right now.

Some in Congress agree and have proposed a traceability measure as part of the proposed F.D.A. Globalization Act of 2009, which would give the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture the authority to require food makers to trace individual products back to the farms that produced them if necessary.

Representative Diana DeGette, a vocal advocate for the provision, said food makers initially resisted the concept but also wanted to avoid more expensive national recalls, which can occur when the specific source of an outbreak is not known.

“What many food producers are now realizing is the cost of upgrading to a traceability system is far less than the financial losses than they have to take if there is some kind of a recall,” said Ms. DeGette, a Colorado Democrat.

I like the concept of traceability. When I go to a farmers market and get to see the name of the farm on the table and even meet some of the farmers, it helps to remind me that there are real people behind my food. When I see the faces of the people who grew my banana in Ecuador, I get introduced to even more people who are helping to feed my family. It’s good. But it’s not just good because it gives me some sense of satisfaction. It’s good because it can help make our food safer.


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Traceability and my banana
Traceability. Consumers and policy-makers alike are asking for more, and some food manufacturers are responding positively.