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Making the right traceability choices

03 February 2020

Mathew Simpson explains some of the most important requirements of a traceability solution for the food and beverage industry. 

Traceability of ingredients and products is critical for the food and beverage manufacturing industry. While clear documentation of the processing and retail routes of raw materials and products is something that is required by law, it can also be a good business investment. Product provenance is a selling feature and credibility is a prerequisite for this. Manufacturers and retailers need to provide transparent and up-to-date information for all channels to allow them to meet consumer demands. 

Equally important, effective traceability is an important part of business security and the minimisation of risks. Global supply chains can be very long and there are many links along the way. Markets therefore require efficient safety systems so that, in the event of an emergency, information can be retrieved rapidly, and appropriate recall management plans can be quickly executed. This can help avert major financial damage and protect a company’s or brand’s reputation.

Today there are numerous regulations on food hygiene, food information and traceability. Companies which have boldly supported their operations with efficient IT solutions are seeing the benefits when it comes to implementing these requirements. The means for achieving seamless traceability and proof of origin of raw materials and products involve the integrated use of marking, scanning, identifying, weighing and labelling, with automated data capture throughout the entire production flow 

Effective traceability is an integral part of any HACCP based (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) quality management system, and it contributes both to achieving legal security and limiting risks and helping a business to establish and maintain consumer confidence.

Every traceability system will be different and tailored to the specific requirements of individual businesses, but the starting point for any solution is the need to ensure that the physical flow of goods throughout an operation and onwards to the end customer is fully linked to the related flow of information.

Clearly identified
Goods must be clearly identified, and the associated data securely archived in electronic format so that it can be retrieved at the touch of a button. Key transaction and master data need to be collected from external suppliers as well as internally, and then communicated throughout each stage of the operation.

Central to any system is the use of lot numbers to link all parts of the production and supply chain. Starting with goods receiving – where the internal lot number is first assigned – this number is used to monitor and confirm the progress of products through all the various processing and packing stages and onward delivery.

Comprehensive traceability systems link equipment, such as weighers and weigh price labellers, and finished packs, as well as storage facilities. The posting of information about the identified units is carried out in goods receiving, inventory, production and sales. RFID and barcode readers enable information to be readily available throughout the process for checking in real time.

As a result all goods movements throughout the logistics chain are captured at batch level and posted exactly to the relevant cost centre – from goods receiving and intermediate storage through production, packaging, finished goods storage, labelling or weigh labelling, and finally picking and despatch.

The system should also be able to cope with different types of production. For example, butchery operations require ‘reverse BoMs’ where a single item such as a carcase is transformed into many items in the form of several primal cuts. By comparison, complex multi-step bills of materials in the manufacture of ready meals combine many ingredients, each with their own lot number, to make one end product with its own new lot number. 

The next steps
Following production, products are automatically entered into the finished goods inventory, including all identification data. In shipping, the ordered items and related finished goods are then allocated to their respective customers. This helps to create a more efficient logistics programme, with faster order picking, and information sent out to carriers in advance to enable them to plan loading requirements and delivery routes.

Some of the most up-to-date traceability systems are able to link to external consumer databases – such as fTRACE and mynetfair in Germany. This allows consumers to use their smartphones to scan a barcode and access information to check the authenticity, history and origins of the products they are purchasing.

Ultimately, the implementation of an effective traceability system means that at any time throughout the production and distribution process, a direct link is established between the products and their origins. It provides comprehensive information on the internal and external flow of goods for quality assurance; it ensures all industry standards and regulations are adhered to; it enables fast access to relevant information in the case of a complaint and means any recall can be more efficiently managed; and it provides full transparency to the end consumer which can boost confidence in a company and its brands.  

The important thing to remember is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and it is essential therefore that companies seek out a suitable supplier, one which has the ability to deliver a solution tailored to the precise requirements of the application.

Mathew Simpson, is UK & Ireland sales at CSB-System.

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