Tracebility – necessity not luxury

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The Foot and Mouth epidemic in 2001 propelled food traceability issues to the top of the agenda for farmers, government ministers and consumers alike. Today, the increased globalisation of supply chain sourcing and distribution, the more rapid spread of contamination and disease, and the growing threat of international terrorism have all helped to ensure food safety issues are more topical than ever before.

Whatever your place in the supply chain jigsaw – manufacturer, ingredients supplier, processor, distributor or retailer – the safety of food in its journey from raw material to the consumer’s table has to be the highest priority.

The EU General Food Law Regulation defines traceability as “the ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food-processing animal or substance through all stages of production, processing and distribution”. Current legislation requires only traceability information and labelling for genetically modified organisms and beef. However, there is a definitive movement towards tighter legislation on all product origin, traceability and labelling.

Food manufacturers are under increasing pressure to provide supply chain partners and, ultimately, consumers with information about the quality and safety of their products. Using a system that enables product life cycle tracking can reap big benefits. Not only are there major cost savings for manufacturers in the event of a product recall, but consumer confidence in the safety of a company’s brand and products can be strengthened.

The UK’s Foods Standards Agency reinforces the importance of traceability. Its report, Traceability in the Food Chain, in March 2003 stated that “having a robust system in the food chain that allows food, ingredients and animals to be traced plays an important part in protecting customer interests”.

Gartner Group analyst Dan Miklovic says consumer choice this year will be influenced by the on-pack product information displayed. He predicts these products will be 20% more valuable to consumers than those without such details.

This information can be garnered through effective traceability systems. These enable record-keeping procedures that show the path of a particular product unit or batch or ingredient. This data is tracked from supplier through all the intermediate steps which process and combine ingredients into new products, through the supply chain to consumers. In the case of livestock, from tracking the origin of the feed, the medicines and procedures used to raise animals, to the final meat product sold, product traceability is now a competitive necessity.

Specifically designed business tools such as ERP systems enable manufacturers to reduce the risk of food contamination, and adhere towards the strictest safety measures. These can identify ingredients and preservatives, ensure quality controls are in place and should incorporate the “lot tracing” capabilities required to assure a safe supply of products. “Lot tracing” can reveal all the changes a product undergoes from its raw material stage, through manufacture and

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