Federal investigators say the government's system for tracking foods through the supply chain is riddled with holes that could undermine efforts to find the source of a disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack.
The Health and Human Services inspector general's office found that it was only able to follow five out of 40 foods all the way through the supply chain.
Food companies are required by federal law to keep records that would allow investigators to follow suspect foods one step back and one step forward. But the inspector general's investigation found that many companies' records are not detailed enough, and a quarter of the company managers were unaware that the record keeping was required.
Problems with tracing foods drew attention last summer after investigators struggled for weeks to identify the cause of a salmonella outbreak. Initially blamed on tomatoes, the outbreak strain eventually was discovered in hot peppers from Mexico.