Traceability in the Food Supply Chain

You just logged into your eBay account and strategically placed the winning bid for the putter you’ve had your eye on for months.  In only a few short days, your golf bag will receive the final piece of the puzzle and your odds in the approaching club championship just improved.  So as you scrub, shine and polish the other residents of your cart bag in anticipation of your newest addition, you can search, refresh and track each step your putter makes on its way to your doorstep.  From the desktop in your office to your phone in your pocket, the location of your purchase is at your fingertips.  The ability to trace your order from a warehouse 1,200 miles away to your mailbox is an incredible thing.  The traceability available in the food supply chain is, however, more complex.

When you consider the multitude of elements that make up the ingredients that comprise our food supply chain, it is staggering.  Add in the wide ranging destinations from which they originate, and maintaining visibility becomes quite challenging.  The importance of food safety spans much farther than your bottom line. The ability to track a food product to its origins is essential in effectively enforcing a recall, as well as controlling and preventing an outbreak.

Food chain traceability allows you to ensure that the trust established between your brand and your customers remains strong.  To achieve adequate tracability there are two key ingredients:  consistent standards and technology.

Consistent Standards:  A major player in standardization is the International Organization for Standardization, the ISO.  This organization has nearly 1,000 standards that apply specifically to food.  They range from machinery and logistics to labeling and storage.  As each element of your supply chain has the potential to cross borders, it is critical that there are platforms in place to assure acceptable handling and production practices. 

Technology:  In a global landscape, traceability can’t exist without the proper tools.  Technological resources make accurate and timely traceability possible.  Bar codes, global data synchronization and radio frequency identification (RFID) tagsmake monitoring each aspect of your food supply chain possible.

Being able to pinpoint the location and stage that a product is in and where it is heading is vital information for several reasons.  Recent history has seen new laws and acts imposed to enforce better traceability practices.

2001 Bioterrorism Act: An amendment to the post 9/11 act requires food processing companies to be able to identify the origin of all food received by some distinguishing implementation (i.e. lot, code, etc.).  The FDA can demand this data at any time.  Failure to comply within 24 hours can result in civil and criminal penalties. 

2011 Food Modernization and Safety Act (FSMA): This act expands the authority of the FDA.  Mandatory recalls and the imposition of food product tracing systems can now be established directly by this agency.  However, before a tracing system can be developed, pilot studies need to be performed.

Institute of Food Technologists: To meet the new requirements of the FSMA, the FDA has leveraged the IFT to conduct these pilots.  This agency found that the FDA needs a technological platform that would allow for efficient aggregation and analysis upon data submitted.  This platform should respond to these common challenges of outbreak investigations:

  •          Tedious organization of documents
  •          Lack of data definition
  •          Incorrect information
  •          Inconsistent descriptions

While these are common challenges from a broad governmental, they can be managed on a smaller level.  Creating solutions that address these challenges and enhance the traceability within your company’s food supply chain can lead to safer products for everyone.  For more information on how Barrett Distribution Centers can provide traceability and logistics services, click here.

why hire a 3pl company