The need for traceability effectiveness and efficiency across the food supply chain is increasing, with consumers becoming more concerned than ever before about safety and sourcing. Also, regulators are requiring companies to provide detailed information about every part of their food products, along every step of the way.
Michelle Southall, director of implementation support at global standards outfit GS1, told FoodProductionDaily the increased focus on food traceability technology comes in the face of several high-profile outbreaks and stepped-up food safety regulations.
“There have been many outbreaks of foodborne illness—peanut butter, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, etc.—that have raised serious questions about the FDA’s ability to protect the nation’s food supply,” she said. “As a result, FDA oversight of food, drugs, and medical devices has become a top priority.”
Southall pointed to a recent US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report stating only five of 40 food products purchased for a traceability study could actually have all of their disparate ingredients traced back through the supply chain to their origins. That shortfall, she said, needs to be corrected.
“Our ability to trace food products remains limited,” she said. “If someone asks me a question about my stuff, I need to be able to answer it.”
She said food facilities in the study lacked in a number of areas. The businesses often didn’t maintain specific lot information, didn’t correctly label food packaging with lot information, mixed grown ingredients from different farms into one, etc.; alarmingly, many facilities had not even heard of traceability requirements.
Laws in the European Union, she said, also require producers to boost their game in food traceability. Food producers now are required to record where ingredients come from, and where in the supply chain they move to; they also need to have that information so that it can be shared easily, and easily accessed by consumers.
“Traceability is important for all food and beverage products,” she said. “Until now, it hasn’t been written into law.”
Regulations like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are causing a shift from response to safety breaches to prevention, Southall said. The FSMA focus on four key action areas (prevention, inspection, compliance, and response) are logical and should be familiar to most food professionals.
“We all know food safety is important,” she said. “We don’t always capture and share the information required as needed.”
Among the pieces of good news in stepped-up safety regulation, Southall said, is the apparent consciousness of regulators on the impact that increased safety efforts have on businesses.