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
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
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
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
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
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.