News Feature | June 6, 2014

Bolstering Food Safety With Traceability Systems

Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis, associate editor
Follow Me On Twitter @SamIAmOnFood

Food Safety Inspection Traceability Tomato

As implementation of FSMA draws closer and closer, the need for timely and accurate tracking of products becomes more and more paramount. A food traceability system can help take speculation out of tracking products from factory to fork

It seems no matter when you look or where you avert your attention, a product recall is happening. And then you see another recall, then an expanded version of that recall. No matter how you spin it a recall is never good for food manufacturers. Companies don’t want to damage their brands, and they certainly don’t want to put consumers at risk, so how food makers improve the ability to prevent these hiccups in quality before reaching consumers?

It really is a simple idea when thought about abstractly — throughout production, track goods from raw materials, to finished product and its journey to supermarkets’ shelves. But, this is not an abstract world. The actual implementation of a traceability system comes with undeniable problems and difficulties.

Food Traceability: Solving The Imperative Of Compliance

The first of the difficulties comes with the nature of manufacturing plants. How many systems are involved in creating a finalized food product? Information management systems are used to create quality products. Control systems automate production. Tracking systems in warehouses keep count of inventory of finished goods, control the processing of placed orders, and dictate transportation times. If these different systems are not linked together, following a product through the production line is not only time consuming, it is guesswork. This is an aspect of food manufacturing that FSMA aims to change.

Another challenge lies in the human element. People are prone to errors and no system relying on human input is foolproof.  For instance, a product could be marked for inspection after production, but rather than being inspected, it is palletized and shipped… but the product was, in fact, contaminated. Furthering that issue, what if some parts of the product was cleared and others not? How can you determine what product needs to be recalled, and how can you make that recall as small as possible?

Tips For Complying With New Food Safety Regulations

Automated and integrated traceability systems are the answer. From the intake of raw materials, through production, product testing, storing products, and the way to shipping the final products, the system should traverse all steps of processing and manufacturing. If a regular check for product quality shows contamination, adulteration, or some other anomaly, the system would be signaled to identify and remove the affected product before it ever had a chance to leave the facility.

The integrated and automated system saves time and labor also. Production line, warehouse, and shipping workers would not need to be contacted; rather, the system would alert all parties in real time. Having this capability within a plant prevents products that could present problems from ever leaving the establishment. Not only does questionable product not leave the facility, effective traceability systems can identify which production lines are affected, how many cartons of affected product exist, and virtually eliminates the need to alert consumers of contaminated goods.

Additionally, having an in-facility traceability system across all branches of production can reduce waste, boost efficiency and data accuracy, and increase consumer confidence in your products. Adopting this type of system is not only beneficial to your company; it is the soon-to-be federally mandated goal of FSMA.