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Traceability in food and agri-products

  • resized traceability

    Introduction

    Today, food safety is a worldwide concern due to a number of food safety scandals. Outbreaks related to Escherichia coli, African swine fever, highly contagious diseases such as avian flu in poultry, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and foot and mouth disease in livestock, presence of dioxin, and micro-organisms like Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter, Listeria, Clostridium have resulted in heightened public and private attention to food attributes.

    Moreover, trade in agri-food and commodities is foreseen to see continued increase. Changes in the trading environment have led to growth in global production network. The structure of the supply chain has evolved towards increased complexity across multiple enterprises, and global reach of agri-food supply chains. The large number of players involved, unpredictability of supply and perishable nature of food has heightened the need for assurance of quality and safety in relation to food products and production processes and to ensure traceability and compatibility among food safety measures.

    What is traceability and why is it important?

    Traceability is the ability to follow the movement of a food through specified stage(s) of production, processing and distribution. Implementation of effective traceability systems improves the ability to implement verifiable safety and quality compliance programs. The resulting visibility of relevant information enables agri-food businesses to better manage risks and allows for quick reaction to emergencies, recalls, and withdrawals. Effective traceability systems significantly reduce response times when an animal or a plant disease outbreak occurs, by providing more rapid access to relevant and reliable information that helps determine the source and location of implicated products. Thus, information (about animal and plant health, country of origin etc.) at any point in the chain from producer to consumer has become crucial.

    Traceability allows targeted withdrawals and the provision of accurate information to the public, thereby minimising disruption to trade. Traceability can reduce the scope of the recall by between 50% and even up to 95% in some cases. This reduces the amount of product that would have been wasted in the absence of the requisite traceability systems. Improved customer confidence also helps with branding and improved brand equity. Moreover, in cases of specialty produce from renowned sources such as saffron, vanilla, cloves, cacao, and other spices and condiments that fetch higher value due their unique characteristics, traceability can help prevent contamination or mixing with lower value produce, guaranteeing product authenticity.

    Benefits

    Implemented correctly, traceability helps to:

    • Reinforce emphasis on prevention instead of reaction;
    • Monitor and defend against risk in real time;
    • Make more informed management decisions, leading to increased market penetration, and reduced operating costs;
    • Reduce out-of-date product losses, lower inventory levels, quicken the identification of process and supplier difficulties, and raise the effectiveness of logistics and distribution operations;
    • Improve customer confidence; and
    • Support branding and improved brand equity.

    A traceability system

    A traceability system records and follows the trail as products and materials come from suppliers and are processed and distributed as end products (ISO 2005). Therefore, the basis of all traceability systems is the ability to identify things that move along the supply chain. In practice, traceability systems are record keeping systems that show the path of a particular product from suppliers through intermediate steps to consumers. These characteristics, i.e. identification, information and the links between supply chain participants are common, irrespective of process or product involved. Traceability may be categorized into external, and internal traceability.

    External traceability requires all traceable items to be uniquely identified, and information to be shared between all affected distribution channel participants. External traceability allows tracing back (supplier traceability) and tracking forward (client traceability).

    Internal traceability means processes must be maintained within an enterprise to link identities of raw materials to those of the finished goods. When one material is combined with others, and processed, reconfigured, or repacked, the new product must have its own Unique Product Identifier. The linkage must be maintained between this new product and its original material inputs (such as batters, breading, seasonings, marinades, salt, packaging materials, and many other inputs) to maintain traceability.

    A number of regulations in EU, Australia, Canada, Japan stipulate traceability requirements, with US preparing its traceability regulations, as part of its Food Safety Modernization Act. Not withstanding these, numerous private standards also demand traceability as a prerequisite.

    The ITC Standards and Quality Bulletin 91 explains traceability with outline for implementation and provides an overview of regulations in different markets and may be freely downloaded.