A voluntary recall of mangoes in May inspired environment and science journalist Elizabeth Grossman to do some research. She had one of those recalled mangoes sitting on her kitchen counter, and she wanted to find out where it was grown. Turns out that’s not as easy as you’d think it should be given our desire for food supply chain transparency and the technology potential that exists to enable it.
Ms. Grossman shares what she learned while trying to find out where her mango was grown in an interesting, educational article on the Food & Environment Reporting Network website. To peak your interest, here are a few highlights.
The Typical Journey of a Piece of Fruit
Your supermarket produce likely went on the following journey: Grower to packer to distributor to supplier to your store. That’s a lot of stops along the way — stops where your produce can be mixed with produce from many other places and potentially exposed to contaminants that came from who-knows-where.
No One Body Tracks The Entire Journey
Federal law requires retailers to display your fruit’s country of origin. It also requires a produce supplier to track from whom it purchases produce and to whom it sells it. But no one is required to track the entire journey of your apple or pear.
Even if They Tracked It, They Don’t Have to Share It
Produce distributors consider the identification of its growers and packers trade secrets. The relationships between growers, packers, and distributors are proprietary — confidential business information — that no one is legally required to share. Can anyone help me understand why this is the case? I just don’t get it.
What about those Produce Codes?
Those stickers we find on fruit bear produce codes called price look-up codes or PLUs, which are standard numbers to facilitate grocery store checkout and inventory control processes. You’d think they might also tell you where your fruit was grown. But no. They don’t.
Where did that mango come from? We may never know. Is anyone trying to fix this problem? Read the full article to find out.
Thanks to the Food & Environment Reporting Network and Ms. Grossman for trying to illuminate the mysterious journey our produce takes from field to fork. It’s disturbing to learn how little we really know.
Image Credit: Mango Tree photo via Shutterstock