6 Best Practices for Traceability in the Food Supply Chain

, 10 minute read

Quick summary: 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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Food systems are critical for the well-being of people and the planet. The food and agriculture sector is the largest employer in the world, despite of people living in poverty. One-third of the food produced is wasted and food systems are responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions which threatens crop yields. The growing population has caused immense  strain on these food systems which calls for the importance of 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. 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. 

Ensuring traceability is vital to build transparency and trust in the end-to-end supply chain. Disruptive technologies like blockchain and Industry 4.0 digital technologies can accelerate implementation and  adoption of solutions across the global food chain and deliver food safety and sustainability. 

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. 

Track and Trace solutions offer complete visibility into the food supply chain. Track and Trace helps in recall management, ensuring food  safety and elimination food contamination. The tracking of products along the supply chain leverages a robust order management system and the sharing of information among the stakeholders enhances  supplier relationship management. Harmonization is  achieved by seamless integration of data with existing systems.  

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! 

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 is crucial for food safety, quality control and sustainability in the food industry. Traceability practices help companies to manage food safety risks, improve supply chain efficiency and build consumer trust. Let us look at the 6 best practices normally followed in traceability systems. 

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 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.  

There are various points along the supply chain where data capture is required to follow the product movement. These are referred to as the Critical Tracking Events (CTEs). This could be in transporting from one facility to another, the changes that occur as products are manufactured during processing. Tracing forward requires accountability and hence these points need to be recorded end to end along the supply chain. At each CTE, the Key Data Elements (KDEs) must be captured to enable tracking and tracing the product movement throughout the supply chain. The concepts of CTEs and KDEs were proposed in 2010, enabling stakeholders to clearly identify data elements required for tracing food products  along the supply chain. The CTE/KDE framework provides the what, where and when information about products  along the supply chain which need to be recorded and shared among the stakeholders to ensure end to end visibility of the food supply chain.

Case Study – Nesso’s Fragrant Traceability journey with TraceX

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Unique Identification Codes 

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.

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. Accurate and up to date records should be maintained at every stage in the supply chain. This  should include the information on product’s origin, its movement throughout the  supply chain and the processing and packaging steps involved. 

Recall Plan 

A recall plan should be developed in case of a product recall. This plan should include procedures for identifying and locating the affected product. A risk assessment on the criticality of the issue needs to be evaluated. The  relevant stakeholders need to be notified followed by the investigation process to determine the root causes and how it can be prevented. The recall strategy should be developed including scope of recall, method of contamination and timeline. The recall should be executed as per the plan. A well-designed recall plan is critical for protecting public health and minimizing the impact of a recall on the company’s reputation and profitability. 

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.  

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. Blockchain technology helps in automated data collection and thereby assure data accuracy and security. 

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.

Ensure Transparency and Communication 

Transparency and communication are essential for effective traceability. All the stakeholders in the supply chain should be informed about the traceability system and should be able to access the data on the products. This collaborative approach helps to build trust and accountability in the food system. 

Key Takeaways from an effective BlockchainTraceability system 

  • Food Safety 

A robust traceability system can identify sources of food contamination and prevent them from reaching consumers thereby assuring consumers of product safety. 

  • Consumer Trust 

Providing transparent information on the farm to fork journey of food helps to win the consumer’s trust and assures them of a quality product. 

  • Increased Operational efficiency 

End to end traceability and real-time  systems builds visibility  and reduces time and costs in identifying issues in the supply chain. 

  • Supply chain management 

Traceability systems optimize supply chain operations and streamline the various processes involved, thereby reducing waste  and improving inventory management. 

  • Compliance 

Traceability systems ensure compliance to regulatory requirements. Blockchain systems provide immutable and  auditable data that provides a single  source of truth thereby assuring credibility of claims and ensuring compliance. 

TraceX’s blockchain traceability solutions , Trace Gro and Trace Pro are comprehensive solutions to achieve end to end transparency and accountability in food supply chains.


Companies need to invest in traceability systems and manage their food safety risks and gain a competitive  edge . They can showcase their commitment to ethical  and sustainable practices and build  consumer trust. With conscious consumerism(What is conscious branding, and why is it so closely related to transparency?  

 on the rise, companies need to adopt traceability solutions to build resilient and transparent food supply chains benefitting all the stakeholders right from the farmer to the end consumer in the food supply chain. 

Remember a traceable food supply chain is a sustainable food supply chain. Get in touch with our Food supply chain experts and fill the missing link.

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