When it comes to product traceability in food manufacturing, regulatory requirements are rarely on par with customer requirements.
The last post in this series described the regulatory requirements for traceability. But regulatory requirements are rarely on par
with customer requirements, and in some ways, this holds true when it comes to traceability.
What do your supply chain partners expect from you? From my perspective, customers often want their suppliers to have better traceability than they themselves have. But instead of focusing on that, let’s instead talk about the private (non-regulatory) drivers of traceability and the forecast for the future.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Guidance Document serves as the benchmark for many popular audit schemes, including SQF, BRC, FSSC 22000, IFS and others. GFSI requires the benchmarked schemes to include traceability requirements. In a nutshell, GFSI requires that schemes require facilities to “implement and maintain appropriate traceability procedures and systems to include the material source (one stage back) and the customer (one stage forward).” This is essentially the same as the current regulatory requirements in the US. The GFSI guidance document goes on to say that “Product identification includes a unique product identifier”, that there is a “record of purchaser and delivery destination for all products supplied” and that “The system is tested regularly”. Some of the individual schemes, such as BRC, stipulate that traceability should be achieved within 4 hours. Others don’t specify a timeframe. I’ve worked with facilities that have achieved this certification and in my estimation, still struggle in truly addressing traceability.
The challenge is that oftentimes information needed to build traceability is dispersed through many internal systems that don’t marry up all that easily. When one or more types of records that contain critical information are maintained only on paper form (e.g., batch logs) it becomes all the more difficult to find information in a timely fashion.
While customers may not require you to use electronic systems, the fact of the matter is that it will become increasingly difficult to promptly notify customers in the event of a recall, or respond to their requests for information about products. And as consumers become increasingly skeptical about verifying labels—like proving that something was “sustainably harvested” –companies need to make sure that their recordkeeping is tight.
But why should one company make an investment to improve traceability if their supply chain partners will be the weakest link, spreading damage throughout the industry in the event of a food safety issue? Industry members in various sectors have worked through their trade associations to specify industry-wide approaches to improve traceability. Though tailored for different sectors, the approaches are generally aligned to minimize confusion at the points of distribution and retail. Initiatives are currently underway in the produce, meat and poultry, and seafood industries, with several others in varying stages. As a premise they all advocate for the adoption of using standardized data in standardized formats, so that information is readily retrieved and the links between supply chain partners can be more readily achieved.
There are many vendors that can help support the implementation of these initiatives, or work with companies to develop more tailored solutions. The bottom line is that customers will always demand more information, faster, for no additional cost. In the not-too-distant future, having a better traceability system will be the cost of doing business.
Learn more about the role technology plays in effective traceability in today’s food processing business – join a panel of experts for Blytheco’s upcoming webinars:
- The Role of Technology in Food Safety and Recalls – July 16, 1pm ET. Register here.
- The Role of Technology in Food Processing Compliance and Traceability – September 25, 2pm ET. Register here.
Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D.
Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Science Officer for The Acheson Group, former Senior Staff Scientist and Director of Science & Technology Projects at the Institute of Food Technologists.