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Connectivity: supporting traceability

13 June 2016

Traceability of components and products has been a critical issue in food markets for over two decades. It is vital not only to ensure food safety but also to build and maintain consumer trust, says Erwin Kooke. 

Having the ability to build and maintain consumer trust has taken on greater significance since the arrival of new technologies, which have led to the consumer having a more involved role when it comes to traceability. Using a smartphone or PC, consumers can now easily retrieve product information and so are able to actively participate in the traceability of products, getting information about how their food is produced and from where ingredients were sourced. Manufacturers and retailers must therefore now be able to provide transparent, up-to-date information simultaneously across many channels.

Legal requirements are also becoming more stringent. The EC Food Information Regulation, for example, which came into force at the end of 2014, details the future indication of mandatory information that will be required. This includes ingredients, allergens, place of origin, company address and nutrition declarations.

It is also essential that the necessary safety systems are in place so that, in the case of a problem, appropriate recall management – based on a well-functioning batch information system – is able to avert reputational and financial losses.

With the level of information and data required to keep systems up-to-date, maintaining records through paper-based systems can be complex, time-consuming and costly. Manual systems, which require multiple inputs of data, can also be prone to errors and inaccuracies.

This is where the benefits of a fully integrated IT system become evident. Such a solution should be able to link all areas of operation – from raw material procurement through processing and packing to onward despatch – through a single central database that can monitor and report back on the progress or whereabouts of a product at any time.

A traceability solution needs to be tailored to specific customer requirements and should take into account particular national and international standards or regulations, such as EU hygiene regulations, HACCP requirements, ingredients and nutritional information, and Country of Origin Labelling (COOL).

IT systems should be able to integrate and link all types of equipment, including marking, scanning, identifying, weighing, labelling, measuring, controlling, reading and weigh labelling, as well as automating data capture at the control points (CPs) and critical control points (CCPs) throughout the entire production flow.

For this to work effectively, the physical flow of goods needs to be linked with the related flow of information. In practical terms, this means every unit – be it batches, packages, logistical containers or final products – must be labelled. This labelling must be kept throughout all stages of manufacturing, transport and sales.

Achieving transparency
To achieve the required transparency for full traceability, goods must be clearly identified, and the associated data linked with each other and stored in an archive. Key transaction data and master data need to be collected from pre-suppliers as well as internally, and communicated from one business partner to the next. This data collection should also be passed on to end consumers or database systems (for example, fTRACE and mynetfair).

A typical traceability system will starts with goods receiving, where a lot number is assigned. Items are then either booked into an inventory or immediately into production. In the case of intermediate storage, references to the lot number or batch number in goods receiving provide a direct link between the products and their origin and quality data.

At every internal inventory movement, the system updates the respective ID details to allow for tracking across the different check points. Information carriers can be barcodes, 2D codes and RFID tags, and even image codes or colour codes.

Throughout production, whenever a component is used, the identification procedure documents the lot/batch number in the production process, meaning the bills of materials (recipes) in production show the flow of goods back to the original supplier. Finished products are then assigned a new lot number which is linked to the components that were used in their production, and the links reflected in the barcode.

The IT system therefore captures the material and information flows for all products, detailing on which day and in which batch the product has passed which machine or department.

During the labelling and weigh labelling processes, the lot number is automatically transferred to the labelling systems and printed on labels. Shipping then allocates the lot or batch numbers to the relevant customers by scanning the barcodes which contain all the identification details. In this way, all goods movements along the logistics chain are captured at batch level.

The result of all this is a system that offers an efficient means of monitoring products and ensuring their safety – and in doing so, it can also deliver the levels of product quality and consumer reassurance that will go a long way to protecting company and brand image and reputation.

Erwin Kooke is CEO at CSB-System.

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