Traceability in the food sector:
Importance and keys
Traceability in the food sector, in the broadest sense, is the ability to follow the path of everything that happens to a food product, and by extension to any of its components, from its origin until it reaches the final consumer. It involves identifying, recording and tracking each stage of the process, including manufacturing and handling, transport, storage and sale of the product.
Traceability aims to ensure food safety, product quality and authenticity, and provide transparent and reliable information to consumers. It is a key tool for preventing health and environmental risks, facilitating crisis management, improving business efficiency and competitiveness, and complying with local and international regulations.
If you are professionally engaged in this sector, we recommend you before reading the article to know the MES System for the food sector that we offer you in MESbook.
Why is traceability so important in the food industry?
Traceability is a key element within the food industry, as it allows the origin and history of food to be traced from production to consumption throughout the entire supply chain. This is essential to ensure food safety and public health.
In the event of an emergency; an outbreak of foodborne illness or contamination, undeclared allergies or other problems, traceability facilitates rapid identification of the source of the problem and enables a fast and accurate response to remove affected products from the market and prevent the spread of disease. This is also key to mitigating the negative impact on a company's reputation.
Traceability helps ensure product quality by enabling producers, manufacturers and distributors to keep a detailed record of production, storage and transportation conditions, allowing them to identify and correct recipe errors or potential problems in the supply chain.
Tracking provides transparency and confidence to consumers by allowing them to know the origin and history of the products they buy, which can influence their purchasing decisions.
Traceability is also a legal requirement in many countries, and companies that do not comply with established standards can face sanctions and damage their reputation. In this sense, the implementation of an efficient traceability system is a key factor in transferring confidence to customers, thus improving the competitiveness of those companies in the food sector that are more advanced in quality management.
Key tools/operations to improve traceability in this sector include: the adoption of identification and tracking technologies (barcodes, RFID, etc.), standardization of processes and reliable communication between the different parts of the supply chain.
It is also important to promote the training and awareness of workers, and to encourage transparency and communication between the different actors.
It is necessary to work on the continuous improvement of traceability systems in the food sector to ensure their effectiveness, first, and to advance in their more efficient implementation.
4.0 technologies such as cyber-physical/MES systems or blockchain, are the answer to guarantee the reliability of your Quality and Traceability system, allowing the digital registration of every physical movement or activity performed on the manufactured product, in an almost automatic way, moreover.
Types of food traceability
Food traceability is the ability to trace a product from its origin to its final destination, which makes it possible to identify its path and history at all stages of the food chain.
There are different types of food traceability that can be applied according to the specific characteristics of the product and the type of industry.
- Traceability backwards: refers to the tracking of the product from its final destination back to its origin and manufacture. This traceability can be applied to verify the quality of the product and the raw materials involved, to ensure that it complied with food safety standards and quality controls at all stages of production and to guarantee its withdrawal from the market in the event of a potential health alert.
- Forward: consists of tracking the product from its origin to its final destination, which allows us to know the distribution channel and makes it possible to withdraw the product in the event of detecting any problem.
- Internal: refers to the monitoring of the product at all stages of the production chain, which implies keeping a detailed record of each stage of the production process with detailed information on the circumstances under which the product has been manufactured: personnel involved, manufacturing line, results of quality controls, corrective actions for any nonconformity, production stoppages that may have affected product quality, raw material batches and their quantity used in its manufacture, time of batch change, cleaning, etc.
- Total traceability: is the combination of all of the above, allowing a real-time record of product movement throughout the food chain. This type of traceability is becoming increasingly important due to the globalization of the food market and the growing consumer demand for products that can be proven to be safe and of high quality.
How a proper traceability system works
An adequate traceability system in the food sector is one that ensures the safety and traceability of food and complies with the standards established by the health authorities.
The traceability system works by collecting and recording information on each stage of the production process, from manufacturing to distribution and sale.
For this purpose,identification systems are usedto label each product with relevant information such as place and date of production, supplier, batch and expiration date, and paper or electronic records that allow tracking of the main actions performed on a product.
This data is stored in a database that allows complete traceability of each product, and in the event that a problem is detected, it can be recalled quickly and efficiently.
That is why the traceability system becomes an important tool in the detection and prevention of health threats and it is key to make this system reliable by means of the automation that, for example, a MES/MOM system offers.
A MES/MOM tool also allows to significantly reduce indirect costs dedicated to:
- the collection and management of all data necessary for this purpose .
- analysis of results, identification of nonconformities and their resolution.
It also improves efficiency when carrying out a traceability exercise, which is key, for example, when there is a customer complaint or audit, and critical in the event of a potential or real food alert.
In short, an adequate traceability system in the food sector is essential to guarantee the quality, safety and control of food, protect consumer health and promote transparency throughout the production and distribution chain, benefiting not only consumers but also the companies involved in the food supply chain.
Managing Partner at MESbook