The origins food traceability date back to 1930s France, when champagne sellers wanted to prove that grapes from a bottle of French champagne were indeed from the Champagne region of France. The practice expanded to other high-end foods, and in more recent years, to more common types of food as well.
In today’s market, food traceability is more complex, as food manufacturing and transportation have also become more complex. Keeping track of the food products in every step in the process, from production to the hands of consumers, involves a lot of actors.
For businesses, this is important because of strict regulatory requirements for consumer safety. For consumers, it's becoming more and more important due to ethical and sustainable reasons -- people want to know where their food comes from and are pushing companies in this direction.
Traceability has two integral components, tracing and tracking:
This offers a transparent picture of the product’s history by providing the journey of each food product throughout the supply chain. It includes the farms where the ingredients were grown, the places set up for combining those ingredients, and how and where the finished products were stored.
Tracking allows accurate identification of a product’s journey after leaving the manufacturer to the destination point, like restaurants, supermarkets or directly to the consumers.
No matter what process is used for tracing and tracking, you need a robust and reliable way to track the food's journey from farm to shop. Nowadays, this is typically done with specialized logistics software.
Especially because we live in such a globalized world, tracking food is not easy. With many requirements and steps in the process (like real-time tracking, trace functions, monitor purposes, inventory, etc), it can be tempting to simply not bother with it. However, traceability is vital for a couple of reasons.
For starters, averting foodborne diseases. Ingredients and food products are sourced from all around the world. With this increased exposure to food profiles from all around the world, traceability will help to prevent outbreaks of lethal pathogens such as listeria and E. coli. Knowing where ingredients for a particular batch came from can be extremely helpful in recalling damaged or diseases products.
Food traceability can also help implement ethical and sustainable standards. Consumers are more demanding of traceability, expressing a preference for products that are both sustainable and organic. It can also help avoid malpractices, risk of contamination and terrorism threatening food supplies.
Essentially, to be able to thrive in today’s market, companies need to proactively take steps to keep up with the never-ending demands. The important steps for this are:
- Knowing the Regulations:
A business should be well acquainted with the rules given by the governing bodies (for instance, the Food Safety Modernization Act in the US), to avoid fines and other problems.
- Checking the Equipment and Software:
Every piece of equipment should be inspected regularly to confirm if they need a repair or replacement to ensure efficient operations. Inspecting software for bugs or potential issues should also be done regularly.
- Understanding the Sector:
There are sector-specific issues that require specific knowledge. Being aware of this knowledge is important for every manufacturer, and it's important to also keep in mind that standards, practices, and preferences are constantly changing.
- Educating where necessary:
Providing education to employees, suppliers, and distributors if necessary is important to ensure implementation of traceability.
Food traceability is an important aspect both for businesses and for consumers. When properly done, it can increase visibility and control over the entire supply chain, and help minimize risks from contamination. It can also help ensure better standards for all workers involved and help consumers make more responsible choices.