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Barcodes: A role in waste reduction

20 November 2016

Justine Clark believes that barcodes have an important role to place in helping to reduce food waste through improved traceability. 

Currently, more than seven million tons of perishables are wasted every year in the UK alone – mostly due to a breakdown in the cold chain. With the current spotlight on responsibility, the ability to easily track and trace goods throughout the food supply chain has become vital. 

Historically, retailers have used the barcode to solve simple issues because as the amount of data the barcode can hold is limited. For example, scanning the barcode, when paired with a warehouse management system, may set off an alert on an expiry date or flag when promotions needs to be implemented.

However, barcodes are now being seen as a solution to increasingly complex traceability requirements. Additionally, the amended 2014 General Food Law introduced a new regulation that forced companies to indicate where items are located in the chain within a specific period of time. Grocers and supermarkets now require detailed and visible tracking throughout a product’s journey. The ability to trace, in real-time, when a particular product needs re-stocking or when it should not be sold due to its expiry date is crucial to providing a basic level of customer service. 

Today companies need to deploy scanning solutions to enable seamless tracking of goods, which is vital for efficient food logistics resulting in minimal waste. Logistics company, DB Schenker, for example, recently overhauled its largest warehouse which acts as a distribution point for customers located in the Benelux region. Due to the need for accountable traceability within food logistics, the company places high importance on accurate and efficient tracking and tracing of goods. 

DB Schenker has made direct changes to its own approach to traceability, ensuring that all items include serial shipper container code (SSCC) labels to provide the product details that are used for transport purposes, in accordance with customers’ guidelines and regulation. 

This is especially important in the case of standard supermarket products. The company has to pick the pallet with the correct product, the precise product date and the accurate ‘best before date’. The system then determines whether they can use the products that are still good for 90 or 120 days. This level of scrutiny would not be possible without the use of barcodes and scanning technology. 

To achieve a high-level of visibility, DB Schenker has implemented rugged hand-held terminals, ring scanners and vehicle-mounted computers on their order picker trucks and the SAP warehouse management system. With these devices and applications, working with a warehouse management system, the company is able to achieve the visibility needed for better management. 

These implementations have also helped achieve a streamlined quality service for customers with the goal of reducing waste.

What’s next?
Freshness is particularly significant for the food chain. Ultimately, the goal is to provide the best quality goods to the customer via the fastest route available, within an environment that is both realistic and suitable to keep the goods at their best with minimal-to-no wastage. 

By collecting and analysing all the relevant data points that have been implemented through the use of scanning technologies, companies will have better access to real-time information that is traceable to everyone involved on the food journey. This leads to faster and more accurate deliveries and goes a long way in helping suppliers meet customer needs from their grocery shopping.

With ‘traditional’ online retailers, such as Amazon, looking at widening their offerings the industry needs to quickly adapt to remain competitive in an ever-evolving market and to attract new customers. 

Justine Clark is industry marketing manager for Transport and Logistics in Europe at Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions.

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