Food Traceability: Preventing Food Fraud
And Ineffective Product Recalls
With today’s complex food supply chain caused by changing industry processes and the consumer
demand for foreign foods, tracing products effectively is more critical than ever for food safety and
quality, and more challenging. However, the industry is struggling to find an effective traceability system
that would keep up with high production speeds. Flexible and modular traceability technology can solve
this problem and help food manufacturers improve their processes, supply chain efficiency, emergency
recall plan, without becoming a burden for production efficiency.
What is Food Traceability?
Food traceability refers to the systems that trace the flow of food through the food supply chain, including
through production, processing, and distribution, and make it possible to locate a product at any stage of
the food supply chain. Food traceability is important for a variety of reasons. The affected stakeholders
Public safety – As an anti-counterfeiting measure for products, Food traceability reduces food
fraud, which poses a risk to the public. It also allows for quick and efficient product recall,
reducing the impact that contaminated food products can have on public health.
Manufacturers – Tracing food products helps businesses manage emergency recall situations,
reduce their liability, and improve consumers’ confidence in their brand. An adequate system that
transmits accurate, consistent and complete product information can also decrease operating
costs and augment productivity.
Food supply chain – The supply chain benefits from food traceability because it makes the
process more efficient, improves cash flow, and reduces waste.
Consumers – Food traceability gives consumers confidence in the products they enjoy by letting
them know its origins and components. It also minimizes the risk of buying a fraudulent product,
labelled under your brand name.
The Benefits of Food Traceability During Recalls
When a food risk is identified, it is important that authorities and businesses are able to trace the risk to
its source so that they can prevent the affected products from being sold to consumers. Food traceability
minimizes disruption to trade by facilitating targeted product recalls and allowing brands to provide
consumers with accurate information. During a product recall, the contaminated products are quickly
located based on a serial number or batch number. With an effective traceability system in place, they
can also be traced back through the food supply chain to figure out where the problem originated.
When it comes to emergency food product recalls, food traceability helps in the following ways:
Preparation – Traceability provides businesses with a clear view of the supply chain, making it
easier to plan for an emergency recall situation.
Response – In the case of a recall, traceability improves the reaction of all parties because it’s
easier and quicker to locate the affected products.
Recovery – While recovering after a food recall, implementation of an effective food traceability
system increases consumer confidence and helps the brand rebuild its reputation.
Prevention – Traceability makes it easier to identify where the problem occurred and to prevent it
from happening again.
Would like to learn how to implement an effective food traceability system, customized to the
requirements of your specific application?
Food Fraud Risks and Losses
Food fraud is a global issue that affects all consumers. It endangers their health by contaminating food
products and sidestepping health and safety regulations. As food supply chains become more complex,
for example, by using more ingredients and crossing the supply chains of multiple countries, the potential
for food fraud increases. The World Health Organization estimates that 600 million people globally suffer
from a foodborne disease as a result of consuming a contaminated product. In addition to being a safety
issue, food fraud is estimated to cost the global food industry over $50 billion each year.
With food fraud rising at an alarming speed, governments and food manufacturers alike start recognizing
the benefits and developing own Track and Trace systems. The global seafood industry, for instance, is
now looking to create an adequate traceability scheme to prevent illegally sourced fish from entering
seafood markets. To achieve this, an interoperable electronic system will trace the movement of fish
through all supply chain touchpoints, from landing to retail.
Food Traceability Requirements
Since the traceability of food products is so critical, their traceability system must be accurate and complete. A food traceability system should be able to identify where a food product and its components were manufactured, packaged, and stocked, meaning that every stop on the supply chain has to get involved.
Today, food manufacturers are expected to be able to:
- Account for the origins and destinations of every product, including by weight of raw materials.
- Account for which material ended up in which finished product.
- Account for later production lots that contain products from earlier production lots.
- Make sure that the product packaging has unique lot numbers.
- Make sure that in the case of a food safety complaint, within four hours, the manufacturer can trace that product back to its ingredients and know where the rest of the ingredients went.
- Additionally, a food traceability system must record and be able to identify information such as: raw materials, additives, ingredients, volume, quantity, weight, dimensions and expiry date.
- Manufacturers must label products with unique identification codes that contain this information.
- Additional regulations apply to specific sectors of food products, such as beef, seafood, honey, and olive oil. These foods are often targeted for food fraud, so the requirements are intended to help consumers verify the authenticity and origins of products.
- There are also unique traceability rules for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to ensure that the GM content of a product can be traced. Accurate labelling must be used so that consumers can make informed choices about whether or not to buy genetically modified products.
Is Food Traceability Legally Required?
Within the European Union, the General Food Law Regulation has established criteria for making sure that only safe food products make it onto the market. This includes the EU’s General Food Law of 2002, which made traceability mandatory for all food and animal feed businesses. Businesses must be able to identify their products‘ origins and destinations and make this information available to authorities. n the United States, two main FDA regulations deal with food traceability: the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA).
The Bioterrorism Act requires that each facility along the food supply chain be able to identify where a product came from as well as where it is going next, in what is called a “one step forward, one step back” traceability requirement. The FSMA was introduced to expand upon the Bioterrorism Act by mandating the establishment and implementation of food safety systems in food supply chain facilities. This includes measures to prevent food product emergencies and a recall plan.
What is a Food Traceability System?
Traceability in the food industry is achieved through a Track and Trace system that includes a hardware
solution and an appropriate IT infrastructure to enable product data transfer. In essence, product
traceability rests on the following pillars:
- data management.
- tracing an
- data generation,
A traceability system is often implemented to enable anti-counterfeiting protection of products through securing product packaging. It provides a significant competitive advantage by minimizing the instances of mislabeling and therefore enhancing customer trust and loyalty. But just as importantly, an effective traceability system enables agile and efficient recall management, more control over a stock situation and enhanced production control.
Serialization in the Food Industry
Serialization of food products means assigning unique codes to food products. Serialization makes it easier for both retailers and consumers to identify and track original products, increasing consumer confidence.
Some countries, including South Korea, are starting to include serialization codes on food packaging. This enables manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to trace products easily from their origin, through the food supply chain, all the way to sale. It is predicted that serialization in the food industry will increase within the next few years to minimize the impact of food scandals and to increase consumer safety and brand transparency.
Aggregation in the Food Industry
Aggregation is an integral part of traceability in the food industry because it gives every step in the food supply chain the same information, making sure that there is only one source of truth. It allows food manufacturers to trace their products from production by maintaining parent-child relationships between the levels of food packaging. Here’s how it works:
- Beginning at the most basic level of packaging (retail packaging), a product is assigned a serialization code.
- As packages are combined in the next level of packaging (up to shipping boxes and pallets), the serial codes are aggregated into a new code label for hat packaging. This creates the so-called parent-child relationship, in which each individual package is assigned to a higher packaging unit.
- Each participant in the food supply chain, from the manufacturer to the distributor, receives the serialization information from the previous step and registers the receipt of goods in the system.
- Each data aggregate is recorded in a database before it moves on to the next step in the supply chain.
For additional educational and technical resources go to our solutions center: https://www.wipotec-ocs.com/en/food-traceability
There is some confusion over Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and the more-recent food-safety plan, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls. Here are the key differences.
Both Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) are discussed, almost interchangeably, albeit incorrectly, in food-processing circles. The truth is that if you were to ask most food processing professionals to explain the differences between the two, the answer may not come so easily.
HACCP is a global standard, developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a team of engineers and scientists from three distinctly different organizations. Pillsbury, the Army’s Natick Research Labs, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) joined forces to draft and adopt a global, food-safety standard in keeping with, and as part of, the Codex Alimentarius. The Codex commission was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1963. HACCP was originally developed as a way to ensure built-in quality and food safety, specifically for the manned space program, though it has evolved greatly since that point in time.
HACCP’s evolution has been continual, resulting in an effective and efficient, comprehensive food-safety management system (FSMS). Pillsbury publicly presented the HACCP concept at the 1971 National Conference on Food Protection, jointly sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Public Health Association (APHA). In 1974, the FDA incorporated its concepts into its low-acid and acidified-food regulations. By the end of the 1980s, McDonald’s started requiring all of its suppliers to adhere to HACCP in order to ensure the safety of the food being served in its restaurants. Spurred by the marketplace, rather than legislation or regulation, other large companies followed suit and HACCP became the standard by which to measure food safety.
In 1989, the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF), published the first official HACCP document, standardizing the practice and presenting the seven principles of HACCP: (1) Hazard Analysis, (2) Critical Control Point Identification, (3) Establishment of Critical Limits, (4) Processes for Monitoring, (5) Corrective Actions (6) Record Keeping, and (7) Establishment of Verification Procedures . The rest, as they say, is history.
Moving forward, HARCP is not a global standard, but an updated U.S. standard incorporated into the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on July 4, 2012. Whereas HACCP generally applies to low-acid, canned food, juice, and seafood processors, HARPC applies to almost all food-processing facilities. The only facilities not required to comply with HARPC are those subject to the Standards of Produce Safety, those already governed by HACCP, and those facilities regulated by Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for Dietary Supplements. Small and very small business entities, as defined by the FDA are also exempt.
- HARPC mandates that facilities:
- Conduct a thorough hazard analysis for all food-processing procedures
- Develop and implement preventive controls, and then monitor the controls’ effectiveness
- Provide a detailed plan in writing, describing how the hazards will be controlled, the preventive controls put in place, and a schedule and methodology for monitoring the efficiency of the controls
- Verify the effectiveness of the controls, also maintaining written records of the verification processes
- Reanalyze the HARCP plan at least every three years; more often as new product lines are added, equipment is changed or upgraded, and/or when other changes require a new analysis
Finally, unlike HACCP, HARPC includes planning for potential terrorist acts and/or intentional adulteration and food fraud. A facility’s HARPC, food-defense plan should include additional security, such as visitor access and control.To put it even more simply, if you have an effective HARPC plan in place, you are also in compliance with HACCP mandates. If, however, you currently function under HACCP guidelines, it is your responsibility to determine if you must comply with HARPC under FSMA.