June 3, 2021 

The Importance of Traceability Procedures in the Food Industry

Barcode superimposed on food.

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.

1. Achieve Regulatory Compliance

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:

  • Nearly 128,000 patients will require hospitalization.
  • More than 3,000 cases will result in death. 

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:

  1. Incentivize companies to create efficient systems for tracking product movement and sourcing individual ingredients
  2. Require companies to maintain high sanitation and safety standards

Failure to abide by the FSMA or similar federal laws can result in fines, reputation damages, and possible license suspension in extreme cases. 

2. Satisfy Distributor Requirements 

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:

  • Batch numbers
  • Barcodes
  • Data matrices
  • Expiration dates

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. 

3. Be Prepared for Possible Recalls with Complete Inventory Control

Product recall process

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. 

When all parties within a supply chain utilize the same traceability system, it creates both:

  • Backward traceability, i.e. the ability to trace the origins of all elements used to create a product.
  • Forward traceability, i.e. the ability to see where all products have moved throughout the supply chain. 

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. 

Traceability Procedures in the Food Industry: Protecting Consumers and Companies

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.

For more information related to traceability procedures in the food industry and other thoughts on the coding and marking industry, stay connected with C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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