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Track and trace: the way forward

04 October 2021

Mike Jamieson explains why track and trace technologies are key for more sustainable food production. 

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Consumers today are demanding more information on every aspect of their food – from its nutritional make-up and long-term effects to its carbon footprint and location of origin. As demand for insight grows, so too does concern over sustainability, and more recently waste – which is expected to grow by 70% by 2050. 
Attention is frequently grabbed by the shocking fact that up to half of all food produced, is wasted. Whether spills or spoils during production, poor storage, packaging or transport, or being rejected for cosmetic reasons, vast quantities of food are wasted at every stage of the supply chain. Indeed, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter behind China and the USA.  
However, the situation is even more worrying when it comes to food packaging. In 2017, 173.8 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU, with 19% being plastic, 18% glass and 5% metal – the majority coming from food packaging. Together food and?packaging/containers account for almost 45% of the materials landfilled.  
With the world’s population set to become 9.7bn by 2050, we require a whole new efficiency paradigm for the production and use of food, water, and energy to support constrained resources, while protecting the environment. 
The food and beverage industry needs to reimagine sustainability, reducing waste, increasing circularity, and embracing electrification and digitalisation to drive tangible efficiency. In production sites, holistic cleaning monitoring tools can ensure no water goes to waste, with new technologies improving product efficiency by at least 20%. The potential benefits are endless. 
Looking at the wider industry and as recognised by the FDA , end-to-end traceability is now the key enabler of trust, transparency and sustainability. It can also help accelerate business growth by reducing the cost, driving efficiency through eliminated waste, and lowing of product recalls. 
Driving efficiency  
Each and every event in the food production journey must be recorded and validated to create an immutable digital passport that be viewed across the permissioned ecosystem. Ingredients, origin, manufacturing, production, packing, distribution and destination need to be instantly accessible and able to be analysed in real-time. 
In case of error, say with product contamination or packaging failure – insights can be instantly uncovered and isolated, ensuring waste across the supply chain is minimised. End-to-end visibility enables consumers, businesses and governments to trace and understand the entire history of a product. This is helps drive responsible production, overall efficiency and circularly, adding as the foundation for continuous, end-to-end improvement. 
To effectively meet the challenges ahead, regions and industries must embrace the circular economy, where waste can be minimised, and products reused. Creating an interlinked ecosystem drives accountability and can therefore be the catalyst for genuine change. End-to-end traceability means responsible production and handling claims can be substantiated, pointing to environmental culprits or supply chain vulnerabilities. 
Evidence of responsible handling is just one part of the advantages of traceability. By having visibility of all the actors involved in handling materials associated with the product, bodies can collate and validated sustainability credentials and allow businesses to assess and report on supplier’s human and environmental sustainability record, again effectively raising standards and helping to meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals. 
Additional transparency of material flows also allows entities to create an accurate and reliable picture of food life cycles, assessing the environmental impact of it at every stage in its journey. This insight drives efficiency, improving understanding of material flow, preventing fraud, counterfeiting, and grey markets, all while helping to optimise logistics and minimise supply chain issues. 
Finally, traceability helps tackle consumer concerns. Increased transparency over the entire value chain enables industry to share information with consumers that allows them to connect more deeply with the narrative of a product and buy-in more fully to the values of a brand and make more informed decisions. 
The future
We need to fundamentally rethink sustainability in the food and beverage sector, embracing evidence at every stage of product lifecycle. Industry in general has a mammoth role to play in combatting climate change and meeting the aggressive targets set by sustainability and regulatory bodies, including the FDA. 
Digitalisation provides the key to fully understanding the current market and eliminating the mountains of waste we produce on a daily basis, while helping drive up profitability. The ‘trust but verify’ approach will not only benefit our planet, but business and consumer alike. We must prioritise locally made and sustainability sourced products throughout industry, respecting and supporting our communities and making decisions that benefit all.

Mike Jamieson is president of consumer packaged goods (CPG) at Schneider Electric.

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