Take the Anxiety out of Recall Management Part 2: Who Needs Traceability?
WHO NEEDS TRACEABILITY?
In part one of this series we established why traceability is important. Traceability helps a food company adhere to government standards which in turn protects the consumer. It protects the food processing company by eliminating risk to its brand and, traceability is important because it opens doors to new opportunities. Traceability is the key to hassle free recall management.
Food traceability and food safety are often used as synonyms, but they aren’t necessarily the same thing. Programs like HACCP are designed to implement food production practices and methods that help make food preparation safe. Food traceability is how the food industry can assure that only safe food is being provided to consumers. A complete traceability system enables processors and distribution companies to track product from the time it enters the facility until it leaves. This helps ensure food safety and allows a quick response to product recalls when warranted. In short, food safety programs like HACCP partner together with traceability to ensure only safe food enters the food market.
So, who needs traceability? The easy answer is that everyone in the food production and distribution industry across the U.S. and Canada need to do their part in completing the traceability chain. The minimum traceability requirement is that products must be tracked through the supply chain one step forward (where product was sent) and one step backward (where product came from) as that product travels from the farm to the consumer. For example, the processing facility must be able to indicate where they have received product from (i.e. farm or abattoir), what product manipulations and additional ingredients were added during production, and where the finished good was shipped. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this requirement and how each company fulfills this requirement is dependent on several factors including:
Company size and budget:
The size of the company will affect how much of an investment that company can make in traceability. Smaller abattoirs and processors can have a hard time purchasing expensive traceability systems because of the amount of capital that can be required to purchase and maintain those systems. Both the U.S. and Canada offer grants to smaller companies to help alleviate the financial burden of adopting a traceability system. Companies that can’t afford electronic traceability systems are still required to provide a level of traceability for their products. They accomplish maintaining traceability through manual records.
Large food retailers and distributors have raised the bar on the level of traceability they require from their vendors. This demand often pushes processing facilities to move to electronic traceability systems. Co-packing facilities can also be pushed by their customers to provide the traceability required on the products they are packing and labeling. The marketplace can put a lot of demands that eventually end up driving companies into adopting an electronic traceability system whether they are ready to make that investment or not.
Marketing and branding goals:
Even though traceability is required, providing the general population the ability to track product from “farm to fork” has become a value ad proposition for some brands. Enabling a consumer to track the meat they are purchasing back to the original farm has become a novelty that some processors use to help separate their products from every other product on the market.
Views on traceability:
Is traceability seen as a requirement or an investment? Far too often companies in the food industry invest the bare minimum in their traceability capabilities. They fail to see how a traceability system is a complete plant system that can provide far more ROI than simply tracking products. “Pen and paper” tracking can be extremely labor intensive. An electronic traceability system can provide a large ROI for companies serious about reducing costs and increasing profits.
Traceability is required for every link in the food production chain. Ensuring safe food is delivered to consumers is a responsibility that both governments and the supply chains demand. Since there is no way of getting around the traceability requirement its time to stop viewing that mandate as a requirement and see it as an opportunity. In our next article we will look at how a plant traceability system tracks product through the plant.