U.S. House Resolution (HR) 7563, named the Food Traceability Enhancement Act, was recently introduced to Congress by Representatives Scott Franklin (R-Florida), Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia), and Jimmy Panetta (D-California). The legislation aims to “strengthen compliance” with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Food Traceability Final Rule through several key changes to its implementation, including delaying the compliance date. The Food Traceability Final Rule fulfills Section 204 of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA 204).

If passed, the bill would ease recordkeeping and traceability lot code (TLC) requirements for restaurants, retail food establishments, and warehouses by removing the requirement to maintain TLC information and provide such information to supply chain partners or to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the Secretary).

Additionally, the legislation would mandate the Secretary to execute at least nine pilot projects to measure the efficacy of foodborne illness outbreak investigations conducted without TLC information, and identify and evaluate low-cost food traceability technologies. The pilot projects would need to be conducted within 18 months of the enactment of the Food Traceability Enhancement Act, and would also need to be representative of diverse retail establishments and commodities.

At present, the compliance date for FSMA 204 is January 1, 2026. However, if passed, the Food Traceability Enhancement Act would delay the compliance date to no earlier than two years after the completion of the pilot projects.

Finally, the legislation would require that the Secretary submit a report to Congress within 90 days of the Food Traceability Enhancement Act’s passage. The report would identify existing barriers that prevent FDA from sharing with the food retail sector important information about foodborne illness investigations, such as early warning signals, reported illnesses, and suspected vehicles of illness.

Support and Dissent

The bill is supported by food retailer industry groups like the National Grocer’s Association (NGA) and FMI, the Food Industry Association. In a statement about the Food Traceability Enhancement Act, FMI expressed that, although the Food Traceability Final Rule is positive, it is also “overly complex and must be fixed,” as the implementation of the rule is “so burdensome as to not be achievable given currently available technology and other resources.” NGA shared its concern that small establishments will be disproportionately negatively affected by FSMA 204 as it is currently being implemented.

Not all food safety stakeholders are in agreement that the Food Traceability Enhancement Act is positive, however. For example, Frank Yiannas, former Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response at FDA, expressed his dissent with the bill from the perspective of a government official who has experience conducting urgent tracebacks during crisis, and who was acting Deputy Commissioner at the time of the Food Traceability Final Rule's publication. "[Having overseen] dozens and dozens of outbreaks where consumers were seriously harmed because [FDA] could not trace foods during an outbreak, if we got rid of the requirement to track TLCs through point of service (through to retailers and restaurants), FDA’s Final Traceability Rule would be completely gutted and ineffective," he said. "If enacted, this proposal would be disastrous—a major setback to the progress being made."

The Food Traceability Enhancement Act has been referred to the Subcommittee on Health by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. 

Update, May 23, 2024: The article was edited to include comment from Frank Yiannas.