- The two main grocery industry trade groups are raising concerns about the FDA’s newly published final rule about new traceability protocols for a variety of food products vulnerable to contamination.
- Under the new rule, which goes into effect in early 2026 and is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), people who manufacture, process, pack or hold foods including produce, cheeses, eggs, nut butter, seafood and deli salads will be subjected to new recordkeeping requirements during production and along the supply chain. The law makes exemptions for small farms, stores and foodservice entities, as well as some foods that are treated to reduce contamination and produce that is rarely consumed raw.
- Statements from both the National Grocers Association (NGA) and the Food Industry Association (FMI) say the rule likely exceeds the FDA’s statutory authority for implementing FSMA.
The traceability rule has been bucketed into the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative. As the agency works to enhance food safety in general, it makes sense for the government to also use traceability technology — implemented for years by grocery stores to track products throughout their supply chains and stores.
Traceability technology has long been touted as a way to identify contaminated food and ingredients quickly in the system. The FDA has said this kind of program can make the U.S. food system safer.
Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, said in a statement that the protocols help “create a harmonized, universal language of food traceability” that will assist the industry in developing its own systems.
But implementing this policy nationwide, as well as requiring a variety of different entities to start keeping new records, is a large undertaking. While it’s been difficult for entities to digest the nearly 600-page final rule in the hours since it was published, groups that will need to change policies are pushing back on some of the sweeping mandates. The compliance date for the new requirements is Jan. 20, 2026.
The grocery industry, in particular, is eyeing the new requirement with caution.
“It is already clear that implementation of the requirements in the rule will demand tremendous investments of time and resources across the entire food industry,” FMI said in a statement. The trade group added that work on the safety of the food supply chain needs to be done “with the least possible impact on food prices, greatest impact on results, and consistency with the intent of the law passed in 2011. Based on our quick review of this incredibly complex rule, it does not accomplish this.”
The NGA, which said it submitted comments to the FDA on the proposed rule and participated in listening sessions to raise concerns, claims the final rule will disproportionately hurt smaller grocers. The association, which represents independent grocers, said its concerns include the expanded scope and complexity of the rule, the implementation phase-in period and the requirements around the sortable electronic spreadsheet for certain foods such as cheese, eggs and nut butters.
“Smaller retailers will be disproportionately impacted by this final rule as it will be expensive to implement and require additional labor that many stores cannot spare,” Stephanie Johnson, NGA’s vice president of government relations, said in the statement.
Both trade groups said they will continue to analyze the final rule’s impact on its members.
The sweeping FSMA law passed in 2011 emphasized preventative steps to make food that gets to consumers safer. FSMA’s provisions — which include more inspections, better manufacturing safety protocols and water testing requirements for produce growers — were rolled out slowly during the last decade.
Grocery industry groups have been preparing for the publication of this new rule. Earlier this month, the NGA teamed up with ReposiTrak to waive the setup fee to access the ReposiTrak Traceability Network so that members could be ready to share their data.
As different impacted entities see the changes they will need to make to comply with the new requirement, similar programs may be established for cheese makers and produce growers. However, different businesses have more than three years to make these changes. Considering large recent outbreaks linked to peanut butter and raw onions, the need for this kind of technology for food safety is apparent.
Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting to this story.