The rise in global trade has brought a wider variety of foods than ever within reach of consumers markets such as Europe and North America, But the tangled web that is today’s food supply chain creates new challenges to protect brand value, build consumer trust and demonstrate leadership in product integrity.
The drivers of traceability
Food safety - Safety is the number one concern in the food industry – particularly in instances where there is a need to notify, withdraw or recall products to prevent food-borne illness outbreaks. For example, in August 2017, food safety authorities across Europe were notified that eggs imported from the Netherlands may be contaminated with a toxic insecticide that is harmful to humans.
Food allergies - The prevalence of food allergies is on the rise, as is the number of foods to which people are allergenic. Approximately 90% of all allergic reactions come from just eight foods or food groups: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. The number of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in children across Europe has increased sevenfold in the past ten years. The scale and severity of the risk explains why, in May 2017, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Pint Slices were voluntarily recalled when suspected to contain peanut butter through cross-contamination.
Cultural compliance - For companies looking to expand into global markets, traceability is also needed for cultural and religious reasons. This might involve the exclusion of certain food groups or compliance with specific practices, such as Kosher or Halal certification.
‘Fake’ foods - As consumers pay greater scrutiny to the provenance of foodstuffs, particularly premium and speciality products, they’re rightly concerned about authenticity. In 2015, seven of Italy’s best-known olive oil companies were investigated for allegedly passing off inferior quality virgin olive oil as extra-virgin. And who can forget the horsemeat scandal of 2013, in which horse DNA was identified in processed beef products from leading brands and supermarkets. Financial gain is often the motive for food fraud and counterfeit products, and as profit margins are squeezed, there is increasing temptation to cut corners.
Traceability for risk management, compliance and competitive advantage
Regulatory requirements naturally reflect the importance of traceability. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act provided comprehensive reform by shifting the focus from responding to contamination events to preventing them. While in Europe, the General Food Law Regulation demands the ability to trace and track food, feed and ingredients through all stages of production, processing and distribution.
However, traceability is not just a matter of public health and food safety but should be embraced positively and proactively as a risk management tool. By providing visibility into the supply chain, it helps companies plan and prepare for an emergency situation and respond swiftly if something goes wrong. It’s what allows businesses to identify the source of the problem through root cause analysis. And if a crisis does occur, it helps both the industry and regulators to maintain or rebuild trust in the safety and resilience of our food system during the recovery phase.
Ultimately, the ability to reliably ascertain a product’s origin, ingredients and batch attributes across the entire lifecycle should be viewed as a competitive advantage – one that promotes quality and boosts confidence in a brand among conscious consumers.
The need for backwards and forwards traceability
Nobody wins if everything has to be pulled from the entire food supply system. Being able to isolate tainted foodstuffs and minimise the scope of a recall requires bidirectional traceability – backwards as well as forwards – which spans:
- the raw materials used in your formulation or recipe, including suppliers, the date the raw material is received by your business and the batch/lot number;
- work in progress, including the quantities of raw materials used to make the product, the number of units manufactured, plus any write-offs, rework or waste incurred;
- the status of finished products, including customer contact details, the number of units despatched, and what batch/lot number or dated products have been sent to the customer.
There is currently is no unifying requirement for traceability, which varies by industry and even product, and this is often reflected in a lack of interoperability from one IT system to another. You may find your ERP and WMS systems don’t equip you with the tools to reliably handle requirements to track data across the food chain, or it may be a challenge to aggregate and analyse the data and convert it into an actionable basis for decision-making.
Whether faced with a real-life crisis or a simulated product analysis and recall, you need to be able to respond under time pressure. Could you pick at random any batch of a raw material received and through forward traceability, account for all the finished goods it went into? If a customer made a serious complaint which had food safety implications, could you instantly trace that product back to all its ingredients? And establish where the remainder of those ingredients went?
A big data problem demands a digital solution
Since traceability is ultimately a big data challenge, it requires an electronic approach to quality management to provide real-time traceability and enable affected products to be quickly pinpointed – wherever they are, whatever the circumstances.
Produmex does just that by supporting an unlimited number of batch attributes, to allow manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to register information that is critical to achieving electronic traceability – anything from country of origin, GMO, manufacturing dates and quality classes to fat content, moisture and age. This information can be used throughout the logistics flow in the warehouse, along with any quality status changes.
Using preconfigured reports, warehouse supervisors can track and trace products throughout the supply chain, whether by item code, barcode, batch number, production line or between specific dates. They have visibility of all information relating to ingredients used to produce the batch/lot, movements, stock levels and more, as well as whether the product has been delivered, when, to which customer, and by which operator.
Written by; Produmex