Traceability and the Safety Imperative in the Food Supply Chain

With newly enacted food safety regulations taking effect, companies have a small window to discover and deploy more efficient and effective methods of ensuring food safety


Within their traceability strategy, a number of global food retailers have also adopted events-monitoring functionality that, within minutes of a safety warning’s receipt at the company’s headquarters, enables them to prevent further sales of affected product across all stores. Alerts can automatically be triggered via e-mail, SMS or text messaging to all managers’ cell phones, even if the items in question are not part of their current assortment (just in case an affected product was mistakenly sent to the wrong store). These systems can also push out the change to the stores’ point-of-sale system, preventing any further sales of the product.

U.S. Retailers See Increased Benefits

Here in the U.S., retailers also are tapping into technology to manage recalls. Retailers must look upstream at their own systems and those of their suppliers to be sure they know what to recall and when – and that they can do it quickly.

According to AMR Research, the key to successfully deploying a traceability strategy will rely on two things: technology and collaboration. This means:

(1) Retailers should collaborate with their suppliers to be sure they have the systems and software in place that allow forward and backward lot tracking and the ability to easily link these lot numbers to recalled ingredients.

This means that suppliers should be able to determine when a lot was received into inventory and when and where the lot was consumed in the manufacturing process. From there, suppliers should be able to link the lot to the barcode label on the finished goods. This way, in the event of a product recall, the supplier could use its systems and software to identify all the finished goods that were produced with a contaminated ingredient lot and notify all its customers who received these goods.

(2) Retailers should have systems and software in place to track lots throughout their supply chain. When a retailer is notified that a recall for a particular lot has been initiated, the company can use the system to pinpoint exactly where these products are within its supply chain.

For products still in inventory, the retailer needs to have the ability to freeze the inventory, whether it’s in the store, the warehouse or in transit. This requires advanced events-monitoring functionality that can enable a company to stop sales of an affected product within minutes of receiving a safety warning. As previously mentioned, alerts should automatically be triggered to managers across the retailer’s supply chain via e-mail, SMS or text messaging. These alerts should also link to the stores’ point-of-sale system to prevent any further sales of the product.

For products no longer in inventory (i.e., those purchased by consumers), it’s critical for retailers to build mechanisms that can auto-alert customers of product recalls. This includes the ability to e-mail, text message and deploy recorded phone messages.

For grocers and food retailers, the message is all too clear: The ability to react quickly to a recall or a safety warning is just as much about adhering to legislation and industry standards as it is about protecting brand equity and shareholder value. In fact, a study commissioned by Deloitte LLP in 2008, indicates that 58 percent of respondents who heard about product safety and/or quality problems altered their buying habits and that the majority of these consumers did not purchase the products in question for over nine months, making it less likely that they would purchase those products or brands ever again. The ability to track and trace product is a boardroom issue that is imperative in minimizing or possibly avoiding damages to consumer loyalty, costly litigation and declining stock prices.

Deploying the Right Technology

The key in deploying and implementing a successful traceability solution is finding the right provider with the right technology — an industry-focused partner that can help you deploy the right technology and walk side-by-side with you until your objectives have been achieved.

Regardless of whether or not you choose to deploy RFID, events-monitoring functionality or barcode labels with advanced tracking intelligence as part of your traceability strategy, you should ensure that your traceability solution:

  • Tracks the movement of products through the entire supply chain;
  • Offers lot tracing capabilities;
  • Provides real-time visibility and control of product movement throughout the process;
  • Enables detailed recall notices to be rapidly delivered to the proper locations;
  • Integrates with existing systems and applications through industry-standard protocols and interfaces;
  • Conforms to global standards, such as GS1, ensuring application and system interoperability and preventing vendor lock-in; and,
  • Offers concrete systems and processes for instantaneous traceability.
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