6 Best Practices for Traceability in the Food Supply Chain

The journey of food from farm to the consumer’s table is a complex one. The supply chain is a vital network with inter connected systems connecting the source of food to the final consumption. Food Traceability has emerged as a top priority in building resilience in food supply chains.
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The journey of food from farm to the consumer’s table is a complex one. The supply chain is a vital network with inter connected systems connecting the source of food to the final consumption. The relatively short shelf life of food products is a major challenge in the food and agriculture sector. There has been a paradigm shift in consumer behaviors.  

In a dawn of the trust revolution, Food Traceability has emerged as a top priority in building resilience in food supply chains. Defined as the ability to track movement of food through various stages of production, processing and distribution, food traceability enables identification of sources of food contamination and fraud in the supply chain. This assures a safe and quality product to be delivered to the end consumer. 

What are the components of the Food Traceability System? 

Tracking and Tracing are the two main components of Traceability. 

Location of a particular product unit or a batch at a given point of time in the production process is known as Tracking which extends from the processing stage, distribution and end consumption in a food supply chain also referred to as the downstream path. The record of how a product has travelled its journey from source to the end user is known as Tracing, referred to as the upstream path.  

The one step back and one step forward approach of traceability will track the movement of the product forward through the supply chain and enable to trace a product back to understand the chain of custody of product and raw materials.  This will ensure a transparent farm to fork journey and contribute to efficient supply chain management and food safety. For a food product, traceability will allow the suppliers, consumers and other stakeholders in the ecosystem to identify the farm, the inputs used, the location of the farm and the whole product life cycle. 

What is External and Internal Traceability? 

Farm to Fork traceability is possible only when both Internal and external traceability are effective. Traceability systems have both static data which is the product by itself and dynamic data which are the lot numbers of the product which keep changing. An effective traceability system is realized when information shared is able to identify and track the product as it moves down the supply chain and trace back to its origin. The optimal balance of this data exchange will meet the requirements of both the stakeholders and the regulators. 

Get your Traceability Right! 

Source: Freepik 

Food safety has a great impact on a number of organizations which need to initiate a food recall. Identification of products and failure to establish product scope and effective traceability will have a devastating effect on the entire ecosystem.

The product should be defined and the data associated with that product should be available to have traceability in place in the supply chain.

The industry should work towards standardization and best practices to improve traceability. 

What are the Best Practices for Traceability? 

Traceability terms and concepts should be clearly defined to all the stakeholders in the food supply chain. 

Traceability is not information. It is the data which is retrieved, arranged and stored. Traceability system is a storage and retrieval system. There is no relationship between traceability and origin, rather it is the information relating to the origin of the product and the other information which should be recorded with it. As the product passes from one actor to the other in the network, the traceability system collects and records the data points to perform real-time tracking of the product’s movement from the origin to destination.

Source: Freepik 
Source: Freepik 

The implementation of traceability necessitates the use of codes or numbers which provide identification and enable traceability. These codes are known as Traceability codes. All traceable items must be uniquely identified by a Unique identifier or a Batch code. Batch codes can be used to track products which have a common problem or with the same expiry date. Batch numbers are issued to a group of products that were manufactured at the same time. This helps to locate products whose life has expired or when a product has to be recalled. The source of the issue can be tracked and the problem can be corrected. 

There should be processes to link identities of raw materials to those of finished product. When value additions are done for a product during further processing, the new product should have a different identifier. A traceability lot code is assigned to each stock lot of a product which arrives at the processing facility.

The framework for identification of the product and its location 

 The food traceability system has the following components  

  • Traceability of the product that refers to the location of the product. 
  • Traceability of the process that refers to the stages in processing and what went into the process 
  • Input Traceability that refers to the inputs used for growing like the feed, fertilizers etc. 
  • Pathogens and Pesticides associated with the product 
  • Quality checks at each stage of the product cycle. 

These traceability systems could vary according to their scope. It could be within individual level systems capturing data within their own supply chain or across a multi stakeholder network capable of tracking across the entire supply chain.

Source: Freepik 

This sure is an extensive list but it provides just the right steps to get your traceability solutions right to target the weak points in this supply chain and take remedial action quickly. It addresses the serious challenges on the product recalls, food wastage and food safety fronts.

The One up, One down practice (Track forward, Trace Backward) 

The one up/one down practice is the best one recommended that organizations need to work towards. Record where the product was sent (Forward) and where it came from (Backward) at each point in the supply chain. 

A farm to fork transparency by tracking forward and tracing backward and using data to respond to faster recalls and outbreaks.

Collating the Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) and Key Data Elements (KDEs) to visualize a transparent and visible supply chain. 

Building authentic and credible products with data driven decisions.

Systematic Record keeping and Exchange 

Product and process properties must be recorded through time stamping and linked to identifiers. It is also important that this data is accessible and shared. The group of products need to be defined to limit the scope of a product recall. Traceability depends on assigning identifiers to units and recording their attributes. 

Technology and Standards for efficiency in Traceability systems 

Standard operating Procedures for product identification and Traceability has to be mandatorily followed. This allows for complete and up to date histories of all products that have moved from the source to destination in a food chain. All the components need to undergo quality checks at each stage of the cycle to adhere to standards and should be documented electronically. 

Source: Freepik 

Labelling of food products is also an important tool for both consumers and the other stakeholders in the chain.

Traceability is also enabled by standards like GS1 standards and Barcode and RFID technologies. QR codes carry more data than any of these traditional barcodes.

Cloud based Blockchain solutions 

Cloud based software solutions give a risk-based approach in processing quality in traceability systems. Blockchain solutions capture data in real-time on a single platform in immutable and decentralized ledgers to build a robust traceability system. Track and Trace systems leveraging blockchain technologies helps to increase supply chain management and enable end to end visibility in food supply chains.

Key Takeaways from an effective Traceability system 

  • Product recall has a huge financial impact on a brand. Traceability tools help to minimize this impact of product recalls by limiting the product scope of the affected lot. 
  • Identification and segregation of products help companies to show the products not implicated during a recall. 
  • Targeted product recalls ensure food safety and builds trust in the end consumer 
  • Challenges due to tampering and counterfeit practices in food are avoided. 
  • Standardization and maintaining Traceability records will foster Regulatory compliance. 
  • Realization of an efficient digitized supply chain along with stakeholder collaboration. 

Explore our Blockchain Traceability solutions 

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