The federal Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011, and currently in the early implementation stages, requires that all food sold on the American marketplace be traceable throughout its lifespan. Producers and vendors must maintain traceability information in digital form so that food products can be traced quickly—and quickly recalled—in the event of an outbreak of foodborne illness. The first major overhaul of the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety laws since the 1930s, the 2011 law, as it is implemented, will require extraordinary technological innovation in an age when food travels through dozens of hands in the supply chain. As an illustration of the related challenges, Jaymie Forrest, managing director of the Georgia Tech Supply Chain & Logistics Institute, points to a recent tracking study showing that a fresh food product from Asia changed hands fifty-sixtimes before arriving at its ultimate grocery store destination.
At Georgia Tech, the work on food traceability is concentrated in the Integrated Food Chain Center (IFC), a collaborative initiative bringing together representatives from the food industry, academia, and government to focus on improving the cold chain management of perishable food products. Housed within the Georgia Tech Supply Chain & Logistics Institute, the IFC draws on the combined energies and expertise of ISyE faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates working in collaboration to identify and develop solutions across this wide-ranging, critically important field.
In addition to food traceability, ISyE faculty members are also working to prevent terrorist attacks on the food chain. With funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, faculty members Alan Erera and Chip White are engaged in an ongoing high-security project to protect the nation’s food and water supplies from widespread, catastrophic contamination by potentially deadly biological weapons such as anthrax.
This article first appeared in the 2012 edition of the ISyE Alumni Magazine.