Barcodes, lot numbers, data matrices—all of these markings are commonly found on food packaging across the country. With these codes, companies can closely trace product movement throughout the supply chain.
Over the past few decades, supply chain traceability has become increasingly required by companies involved in manufacturing, packaging, and distribution. In this field, the food industry is among the most regulated sectors, alongside chemical production and aerospace/automotive engineering. Faced with rigid standards set by government entities and distribution channels, food companies must place codes on their products and establish recordkeeping practices to foster complete traceability.
By following traceability procedures in the food industry, companies achieve regulatory compliance, satisfy distributor requirements, and are prepared for recalls. Here's a closer look.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illnesses infect nearly 48 million Americans every year. Of these cases, it’s estimated that:
Outbreaks from Salmonella, norovirus, E. coli, and other pathogens are responsible for these numbers, and they are found everywhere in the world. In Europe, for example, more than 91,000 Salmonella-related cases are recorded every year, costing the region around €3 billion a year in healthcare costs. Consequently, many governments view food safety as a public concern and have created regulations to fight against possible outbreaks. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one such law.
Enacted on January 4, 2011, the FMSA gives the FDA power to order mandatory food recalls. While the FMSA is a long, complicated set of rules with dozens of sections, the basic focus of the law is to:
Failure to abide by the FSMA or similar federal laws can result in fines, reputation damages, and possible license suspension in extreme cases.
Food traceability isn’t just good for public health—it’s good for business, too. Foodborne illness outbreaks create huge headlines and hurt public standing. Companies at the center of an outbreak can lose millions of dollars, either from fines or lost business. Chipotle, for instance, recently agreed to pay $25 million in federal fines for their role in various outbreaks from 2015 to 2018.
To avoid similar incidents, retail outlets and distribution channels require their partners to place traceable markings on their product packaging. Most commonly, these codes take the form of:
Like the federal government, distribution channels can levy fines against partners that fail to abide by these set rules. Repeat offenders may even face contract termination if they cannot sufficiently follow distribution requirements.
Food industry traceability procedures enable businesses to not only map where their products are but allow them to source all of the individual ingredients, as well. This level of unbroken traceability is a must when it comes to the increasingly complex global food network.
Processed food can be made with dozens of ingredients, many of which could have originated in distant farms, or even different countries. If even one ingredient is compromised, product recalls become necessary for the sake of public health and company reputation. These scenarios are common, and the only way to sufficiently address them is through supply chain traceability.
Internally, traceability procedures also enable companies to precisely account for all products currently inventoried.
All of these elements prepare companies to maximize recall effectiveness in the event of contamination. Further, they prepare operations to quickly recover from recall incidents, helping them recover consumer confidence and avoid negative publicity.
For companies to survive in the food industry, following traceability procedures is a must. Between federal regulations, distributor requirements, and the omnipresent potential for possible product contamination, complete traceability is an indispensable tool. Fortunately, modern printers make this easier than ever.
Topshelf continuous inkjet printers can mark products of all substrates moving at high speeds. Software also aids in helping generate the appropriate codes and documents where products have moved along the supply chain. Stay tuned to C&M Digest to learn which hardware and software options could most benefit you.
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