Why is Food Traceability so Important?

Do you ever wonder where your food came from before it ended up on your table? Whether you’re eating at home or out in a restaurant, it’s critical to your well-being that the supply chain that supplies the food can track it one step forward and one step backward at any point of the production or distribution product.

In the food industry, this system is known as “food traceability.”

What is Food Traceability?

Food traceability refers to the methods used by the food service industry to track food through the process of production all the way through to distribution. It is a critical step in protecting both the consumer and the supplier.

The current food supply chain is a complex maze that continually undergoes changes in industry processes and consumer preferences. For example, consumer preferences have become more focused on fresh food instead of processed food. Many restaurants tout their “farm-to-table” approach, but before getting to the table, the food must travel through processing, storage and distribution.

While each of these steps has set standards and regulations, the enforcement can be inconsistent or ignored. Given how quickly foods can become fads and the misinformation spread by the media or word-of-mouth, the safety and quality of food is the utmost concern of consumers and suppliers alike.

Current concerns include the following:

  • Highly visible cases of foodborne illnesses
  • High number of food recalls
  • Increase in fraudulent activities in the supply chain
  • Products coming from countries with low safety standards
  • Risk of spoilage due to the long, complex distribution process
  • Increased distrust of the food supply industry

 

Food safety problems are somewhat rare, but they gain a lot of media attention. For some companies, it can send them into financial difficulties when the problem isn’t caught before public health is compromised. Other companies opt for voluntary recalls, mitigating the issue before it escalates. Companies that act proactively fare better with consumers.

Food traceability is paramount is finding the source of the problem and correcting it. There is an increased demand for holding food supply chains accountable. Regulations and guidelines ensure the food supply chain can be traced one step forward or one step backward from the origin of the product to delivery.

How it Works

Food traceability helps give order to the chaotic food supply network. It consists of two unique pieces of the overall puzzle: tracing and tracking.

Tracing starts at the product’s origin and creates a history of its movements forward through the entire food chain. The product can be traced either in bulk or as a singular entity. The list of ingredients is included in the tracing information.

Tracking refers to the ability to pinpoint the exact destination of a product. The product is tracked through the food chain from the manufacturing point up to the point-of-sale or point of consumption, depending on if the product is used in a restaurant or retail environment. The product can be tracked as a batch or an individual product.

To put it simply: tracing goes back to the product’s origin while tracking goes forward to the product’s final destination.

Relevance to Food Safety

The food supply chain can be a complex labyrinth, especially the global boom of the food industry is factored into the equation. Food traceability puts a system in place on the off chance a food safety comes up. The traceability process helps pinpoint the exact location in the food chain the issue occurs and the scope of how far the product’s distribution reaches.

There are four main phases of emergency planning after a food safety issue has arisen:

  • Preparedness – Traceability ensures the food supply chain is prepared for an emergency, worst-case scenario.
  • Response – The transparency of the food supply chain allows for a prompt response to the issue.
  • Recover – Any food safety issue will leave a dent in the reputation of a food service company. A superb food traceability program helps regain the trust of affected consumers.
  • Prevention – Once a food safety issue occurs, preventative measures must be implemented to keep the incident from reoccurring.

Food traceability lends visibility to the entire food supply chain and helps hold the food service industry accountable in keeping food safe. Foodborne illnesses claim the lives of thousands of people each year. Food traceability keeps that number from skyrocketing.

Food Traceability Systems

Food traceability allows food service companies to record, track and verify the history and location of a product as it is transported through the supply chain. To this effect, barcodes or RFID tags are used in conjunction with traceability software. Food traceability systems can be as simple as inventory and record-keeping systems.

However, the food service industry is becoming more tech-savvy. More and more, the industry is opting for more complex food traceability systems that are able to trace a product from the farm to the table. The change is due to the expanding food safety regulations and the changing trend for consumers to prefer fresh food to processed food.

Food traceability systems have the ability to gain access to information about each ingredient of a food product. If a product claims to be gluten-free, the consumer can use the food traceability information to verify the claims. For some people, severe allergic reactions to certain ingredients make food traceability a life-or-death situation.

Food traceability systems allow the safety issue to quickly be identified and isolated to prevent further distribution of the contaminated products. This enables corrective actions to be implemented immediately to mitigate the scope of the outbreak. Many traceability systems include the trace back and trace forward methods of pinpointing the break down in the supply chain where the incident occurred.

Trace back traces the product from the retail shelf or restaurant back to the original source. Trace forward follows a product from the farm to the retail shelf or restaurant kitchen. Food traceability systems can accurately and swiftly find where the safety issue arose from and how to prevent it from affecting more consumers than it already has.

Food traceability is the first line of defence against foodborne illness outbreaks. It is useful for different entities for different reasons. For businesses, it can help lower the financial impact of recalls and liability costs. For the supply chain, it can increase productivity and reduce waste. For the consumer, it strengthens the confidence that the food industry takes food safety seriously.

FoodSafe improves food safety and assigns staff daily/weekly duties to comply with HACCP standards therefore eliminating hazards and minimising risk.