Human beings have been keeping on eye on their food supply since the dawn of time. Livestock has been identified in some form and monitored for centuries, particularly during outbreaks of disease. Ancient Romans had provisions to protect citizens from adulterated food. Early colonial America implemented inspection laws for the export of food to Europe. Only in the last fifty years or so have food companies more routinely relied on product identification codes and electronic systems. Regulations such as the 2001 Bioterrorism Act and the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act have made traceability a critical factor for food companies to consider.
For most manufacturers, the number one reason to implement track and trace technology is to manage recalls. This capability can be also be used to improve other aspects of an organization, such as inventory management and quality assurance. This wider application can lead to improved efficiencies, reduced costs, and increased customer satisfaction.
Tracking the Source
Globalization has created gaps in safety in the food supply chain. The US imports approximately 19% of its food supply- 80% of seafood, 50% of fruits, and 20% of vegetables. The top three countries are Canada, Mexico, and China. Safety regulations vary by country, as do agricultural practices. Quality should be at the forefront of all supply chain initiatives for risk management and business continuity planning.
Solutions can include built-in controls to provide manufacturers with visibility into qualified suppliers and the ability to specify incoming inspection requirements. If a tolerance issue or contaminant is identified, track and trace technology can notify the manufacturer in real-time to begin addressing the problem and avert the deficient product from the leaving the production floor. If the same product is returned multiple times, a root cause analysis of track and trace data might reveal a quality issue with a specific ingredient or supplier.
Tracking In House
Food manufacturers yield an average of 84% of raw material. Even a small increase in yield improves profitability. Managing growth and keeping costs under control are high priorities for any organization, and visibility into manufacturing operations is crucial.
Track and trace technology can be used to improve inventory management. Knowing when an ingredient arrived, and what its shelf life is, allows a manufacturer to optimize use of its materials. For example, establishing protocols with a first-expired/first-out (FEFO) rotation ensures that stock is used in order, rather than being left to languish on the shelf. Lot controls can also dictate distribution order to that product with an approaching expiration date is shipped ahead of the next batch. Better use of inventory can lead to improved demand forecasting and planning, thus allowing for more strategic operational decisions.
Tracking the Distribution
Increased scrutiny and improved testing methods have led to more product recalls. In fact, contamination recalls have increased 167% from the first quarter of 2016 to the second. General Mills recalled 45 million pounds of flour after it was linked to an E. coli outbreak going back to December 2015. The flour was distributed to consumers, as well as other producers. Betty Crocker instituted a recall of its cake mixes and Krusteaz pulled its blueberry pancake mix, due to receipt of recalled flour. These secondary recalls are a direct result of traceability. By knowing the ingredients that went into the product, these manufacturers were able to take action quickly.
Regulatory bodies are not the only ones demanding that manufacturers be able to track a product forward and backward in production. Many retailers are requiring their suppliers conduct mock recalls to demonstrate their ability to track an ingredient’s path through the manufacturing process. Identification is considered the most important step in increasing the effectiveness of a recall. An industry survey found that 78% of companies can locate lot information within eight hours. An integrated ERP system with full backward and forward lot trace/recall capability has the potential to reduce that time to minutes. The sooner an issue is identified the sooner steps can be taken to resolve it.
According to 2016 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Food & Health Survey, 66% of respondents were confident in the safety of the US food supply, down 12% from the previous year. Traceability can allow a manufacturer to greatly improve agility and decision-making, thus ensuring product safety, securing customer and consumer trust, and meeting industry and government regulatory requirements.
An estimated 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and the numbers are growing. Reactions can range from mild responses, such as a rash or an upset stomach, to severe symptoms including trouble breathing, chest pain, and loss of consciousness. While more than 160 foods have been described as causing allergies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified eight that must be declared at least once on the food label. These major allergens - milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy - account for 90% of allergic reactions, and are the food sources from which many other ingredients are derived.
Undeclared allergens have been the leading cause of recall since 2011, accounting for 45% of all FDA recalls in 2015, exceeding the total number of recalls for all previous years. In the two months prior to the release of this article, the FDA reported 20 recalls for undeclared allergens. In years past, the FDA had urged manufacturers to avoid unidentified allergens; now the industry is required avoid them as part of the Preventive Controls provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The implementation of an integrated ERP system can help a company meet these requirements.
What Went Into It?
Manufacturers need to have control over their recipes and formulas to ensure consistency and quality. In the case of allergens, recipe management is essential. When a new product is formulated, ingredients are tracked within the system. At this point, the presence of allergens is easily captured. But what if an ingredient is not in stock? A substitute is used, and the recipe needs to be modified. For example, if a recipe calls for milk, soy milk is acceptable replacement, but soy is another allergen. An ERP system would detect the conflict and prevent that change from going into production. An alert would bring the error to the attention of the appropriate individual.
What Came In Contact With It?
Another potential source of undeclared allergens involves cross-contact. Cross-contact occurs when an allergen is inadvertently transferred from a food containing an allergen to a food that does not contain the allergen. Ideally, products containing allergens would be processed on separate equipment. If that option is not available, scheduling becomes critical. A hierarchal structure can be programmed into the ERP system so that jobs run from the lowest to the highest of allergens. In a bakery, sugar cookies would be the first product down the line, then peanut butter cookies. Sanitation would occur before the next batch ran on that line, to prevent possible peanut residue from coming into contact with the next batch of cookies.
Where Did It Go?
Traceability has become the guiding principal for almost all food safety regulations. A company must be able to track material along every step of production. Lot traceability allows manufacturers to determine not only where exact ingredients originated within a given batch, but also where that batch went. Version control features provide a historical view of the recipe used to produce each finished good lot so that a complete audit trail is available, back to the original ingredient lots used at a specific date and time. In the event of a recall, time is of the essence. If a supplier realized a shipment of spice mix contained peanuts, the ERP system would be able to answer specific questions such as where the ingredient was used, how much was used, when it was used, and where the finished product went. A targeted recall is more effective than a widespread one, and less damaging to the brand and the bottom line.
When it comes to allergens, ignorance is not bliss. Allergic reactions to food result in more than 300,000 outpatient visits per year among children under 18. Strict avoidance of allergens is important to prevent serious health consequences. Use of an ERP system to manage recipes, establish production schedules, and execute precise recalls can help a company comply with FSMA regulations and protect vulnerable consumers.