What is food traceability & what are the benefits of digitalisation?

Food safety and traceability systems

Food Traceability revolves around food safety. Food safety is a growing concern for many reasons.

– Millions of people are affected by food poisoning each year

– Billions of dollars are lost in brand damages due to product recalls

The situation is getting worse. Rapidly growing industries and complex supply chains make food traceability a challenge. Food manufacturers are under constant pressure to make food safer.

Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about what they consume and want to know:

  • Where the food comes from?
  • How is the food produced?
  • What ingredients are included in the production?

To meet these demands, food manufacturers must document all activities related to production. A process commonly referred to as food traceability.

This blog aims to give you an understanding of food traceability, how it works and which pitfalls to avoid.

Let’s start by addressing what food traceability is.

A brief overview of what a food traceability system is

Food Traceability is the ability to track the production process from receiving raw ingredients to the packaging and distribution process (also known as ingredients traceability).

Ingredient traceability software helps you trace ingredients at all production stages and creates transparency and accountability.

As an example, let’s imagine we are a lemon pie manufacturer.

  • First, we need to track where the ingredients come from (lemon, flour, eggs, etc.) and who we purchased them from.
  • We must track & store each ingredient with a unique number (usually a lot or batch number).
  • When making the lemon pie, we need to track all the ingredients we have used to produce that pie, along with each ingredient’s unique lot/batch number (if there is a problem with the pie, we can trace it back to a specific batch of ex. lemons)
  • During the production of the lemon pie, we must make sure that the pie meets quality requirements. (Ensuring the dough has cooled correctly, sugar heated precisely, etc.) Tracking these critical control points is crucial for us to avoid hygiene problems with the pie.
  • Before the batch leaves the building, we must give the pie a batch number. Under this batch number, all the information about the raw ingredients is tracked. This includes the origin of the lemons and sugar and their associated lot/batch numbers, thus ensuring ingredients traceability.
  • When the lemon pie is done and leaves the building, we have a system that makes it possible to track & trace our lemon pie back to the original ingredients.
  • If someone eats a pie made of moldy lemons, we can track the specific batch and recall all pies made from those lemons.

A full traceability system make ingredients traceable

When a ingredient traceability software system is set up correctly, it helps:
  • Answer any questions regarding the product thoroughly and confidently, right through the supply chain
  • Gain easy access to information on food sources, processing procedures, and other details
  • Reach maximum protection of human life and health
  • Provide information within the company to help the process and stock control
  • Contribute to quality assurance and product certification
  • Prove the origin of a problem and the company’s innocence in case of alleged offences related to the quality of the products
  • Deal with customer complaints about delivered products and provide information on any issues
Traceable ingredients is crucial for ensuring food safety

There are a few food safety certifications to help food manufacturers reach the highest standards of food quality. These include IFS, HACCP analysis, and ISO. By getting certified through these safety standards, you can ensure maximum human life and health protection.

There are two dimensions of food traceability. Chain traceability (tracing an ingredient one step back or one step forward in the supply chain) and Internal traceability (tracing the original raw ingredients through the stages of production).

The challenges of food traceability

Now that we know what food traceability is, let’s look at some challenges of working with food traceability in practice as consumer demands rise to meet the regulations. These new compliance demands put a massive strain on smaller food manufacturers still using pen and paper for documentation.

Listed below are six challenges food manufacturers face in managing a food traceability system.

1. Documenting batch numbers

The first and most common problem is documenting accurate batch numbers throughout production. Batch numbers need to be noted correctly on each document to trace back to the problem in case of a food recall. Issues arise when employees link documentation to incorrect batch numbers (due to typos), making it impossible to get a complete product overview.

2. Performing correct quality controls

Another common problem is ensuring that quality controls are performed and documented correctly. Paper controls are often compromised due to incorrect and inconsistent information. Questions are easy to skip. Lousy handwriting or liquid ruins make paper impossible to read. Errors in production are not detected in due time and are not resolved due to missing guidance.

3. Getting approval requests signed in time

Getting documentation approved and signed off by the right internal parties is labour-intensive and time-consuming. It typically involves different people and departments cross-checking the same document.
Employees must move from one workstation to another to get the document approved, resulting in internal misunderstandings and a waste of time.

4. Storing and reporting documentation

Storing all documents related to a specific production batch is difficult on paper. All documentation must be linked to a particular batch number. Gathering all documentation in the supply chain, related to product traceability and food safety, takes time and leads to detective work for managers who spent much time finding out who did what and when.

5. Tracking product recalls

Finding and tracking batch numbers on paper becomes a hassle in case of a food recall. Employees must search through several folders to find the proper documentation to rectify an error. If not detected, all products must be recalled. The lack of product traceability is an extremely costly affair, leading to lost sales and brand damage.

6. Monitoring documentation progress and development

It is hard to detect and resolve problems in the production process using paper. The issues are often found too late, which makes it impossible to correct the problem in due time. A related issue is not having an overview of how the product is performing. Example:

  • How many errors have we made this month compared to last month?
  • How many corrective actions have we taken, and what were they?
  • How much waste did we have this month compared to last month?

    The problem with manual food traceability is that many companies are simply documenting into a black hole and have no idea how they are performing and have no product traceability.

How do you overcome food traceability challenges?

The truth is that there is no silver bullet to overcome all the above-mentioned challenges overnight.

That being said, implementing a proper ingredient traceability software system can help you significantly save time on manual processes and reduce costs on labour-intensive activities.

Listed below are three core benefits of product ingredient traceability.

1. Linking batch numbers in a ingredient traceability system

By digitizing food traceability, you can ensure that all batch numbers are entered correctly and linked back to the right raw materials, using QR codes. This ensures that:

  • Batch numbers are recorded accurately every time (product traceability)
  • All products are linked to all raw materials (lot/batch number)
  • Contaminated batches can easily be traced and recalled

2. Collecting consistent food safety & product traceability documentation

Digitizing existing checklists and paper recipes helps you make sure that all documentation is filled out in the correct format at the right time by the right people. The benefits of digitizing product traceability are:

  • Making sure that the batch numbers and recipes are filled out accurately
  • Identifying errors right away and documenting which corrective actions have been taken

3. Getting documents approved and signed

Multiple parties are involved in approving quality documentation. A process that can include various departments. The benefits of digitizing the approval process are:

  • Removing the manual process of going back and forth between departments to get a paper signed
  • Help Managers get an overview of supply chain documents for review and sign them from anywhere

How can Flows help?

Flows is an all-in-one food traceability system that makes it easier for food manufacturers to meet collect supply chain documentation, avoid errors and limit product recalls.

Flows enable Product and Quality Managers to:
  • Perform standardised product controls – ensuring data is gathered in the correct format every time
  • Detect errors and identify root causes for each batch
  • Track batches and get complete compliance visibility throughout the production process

What can Flows offer?

1. Track food traceability across the supply chain

Flows is a record-keeping system, that makes it easy to track products and ingredients in the supply chain.  This makes the recall process straightforward and helps companies keep track of all activities related to their supply chain.

2. Get compliance visibility in real-time reports

With Flows' traceability system, you can get a complete overview of each production process in the supply chain. How it was produced and what it was created with. With one search, you can find batch numbers and access full food traceability of your production. This makes it easier for you to meet regulatory compliance, identify root causes, and re-call faulty products.

The Flows food traceability platform helps you keep track of production batches and quality inspections in the supply chain. By gathering all the data in one platform, Flows helps you:

  • Meet government regulations
  • Stop recalls
  • Avoid millions of dollars in lost products and brand damages

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