Food traceability

How can you ensure the food traceability? We explain what you need to bear in mind and present important methods.

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8. February 2024

Content Marketing Manager

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks: we deal with food from morning to night and assume that it is of high quality and safe. After all, what's on the shelf has to be good. But for food-producing companies, the path to a safe product is complex – and very important. To ensure safety, traceability is subject to strict regulations. Read our article to find out what these include, what methods are used and what´s the role of software.

Why food traceability is important

Food traceability is about ensuring that all steps and stages of production, processing and distribution can be tracked. To ensure this, the immediate upstream suppliers and the direct downstream buyers of a product must be known at every food stage. The aim of food traceability is to limit damage in the event of an unintentional incident and, for example, to be able to remove poor-quality products from the market as quickly as possible. Other objectives pursued by food traceability are

  • Provide consumers with relevant and truthful information
  • Ensure maximum product quality and safety when handling food
  • Identify the cause of a product's poor quality, for example the production step that led to the contamination

Documented obligation to provide evidence in the context of traceability

Since January 1, 2005, the traceability of food has been mandatory for all companies in the food chain. Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 for foodstuffs essentially contains the following points:

  • Companies must inform authorities on request about which suppliers and commercial buyers they are cooperating with.
  • The regulation also includes the recommendation to have additional information to hand, for example on the quantity, batch number or product description.

To ensure that a product can be withdrawn from circulation as quickly as possible if necessary, companies in the food industry must be able to prove the origin of products and to whom they were passed on. As authorities monitor every recall, the company concerned provides the relevant traceability data.

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The exact information that needs to be documented as part of traceability usually differs depending on the region and the relevant legal regulations. Typical information that is often recorded is

  • Origin of products and production location
  • Batch number/lot number
  • Information on transportation such as means of transport used, route details, details of storage conditions during transportation
  • Information on the distribution channel, including wholesale, retail and end consumer
  • Information on processing, for example the steps taken, storage and environmental conditions
  • Information on labeling such as product labels, barcodes and QR codes
  • Documentation of quality controls and recall procedures
  • Information on suppliers, including raw materials, delivery quality and safety
  • Consumer information including contact details and recommendations for action in the event of problems

Who prescribes the Europe-wide food traceability?

The regulation that food must be traceable throughout Europe was laid down by the European Union. It is based on Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2022 and essentially stipulates that the following parties must ensure the traceability of foodstuffs

  1. all parties involved in the supply chain such as farmers, producers, transportation companies and retailers
  2. the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is responsible for monitoring that all parties involved in the supply chain fulfill the requirements of the EU regulation.
  3. the European Union, as it enacts the relevant legislation, regulates the quality and safety standards and coordinates the necessary measures if required.

The most important methods and technologies or food traceability  

The legal basis for traceability of food is strict and clearly defined. But how do companies ensure that they reliably meet these requirements? Some methods and technologies support compliance.

  • Codes

    One way to support the traceability of food is to affix barcodes and QR codes to the food packaging. These show the information required for traceability simply by scanning. This includes, for example, the place and date of production.

  • RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification)

    Wireless RFID technology allows data to be transmitted via radio waves. They are attached to food packaging so that production information can be stored. This makes it easy to identify products along the entire supply chain.

  • GPS (Global Positioning System)

    By integrating GPS into transport vehicles, companies can track food deliveries in real time. Transport routes and times can thus be digitally tracked and monitored.

  • Nanotechnology

    Nanotechnology can be used to apply tiny markings to food packaging. These can be tracked throughout the entire product life cycle. 

The technologies mentioned are just a few of many more possibilities. In order to reliably ensure the food traceability, several methods are usually combined in practice. The better these are coordinated, the safer companies are positioned - and they have to be. This is because the numerous safety mechanisms are also faced with challenges that companies in the food industry have to meet.

Complexity, globalization and regulations: Food traceability is challenging

Food traceability is extremely important for the food industry and crucial for consumer safety. However, the topic is also characterized by challenges that vary from company to company and depending on the type of product. However, due to globalization and regulatory developments in particular, some of them are particularly common:

  • Complex supply chains

    Globalization has also increased the complexity of supply chains. The more parties involved in the production chain process, the more difficult it is to track the individual steps or goods. If the process also involves parties across national borders, recording becomes even more difficult.

  • Diverse products

    From fresh to highly processed products: food is offered in a wide variety of forms. This is challenging, as the traceability requirements change from product type to product type. It is almost impossible to introduce a standard and an overarching procedure.

  • Costs and effort

    In order to guarantee reliable and consistent traceability, a great deal of effort is required, and numerous resources must be deployed - prerequisites that not every company can easily fall back on. The requirement therefore often means a lot of planning work.

  • Security and data protection

    In order to ensure the food traceability, a large amount of data must be collected and stored. This approach repeatedly raises concerns about data protection, so companies must ensure that they comply with the relevant regulations.

  • Lack of standards

    There is a lack of defined standards for food labeling and traceability. The involvement of numerous parties and international operations further complicate the initial situation. All of these factors make it more difficult to exchange data, both for recording information and in the event of a complaint. 

Software as support for traceability in the food industry 

Software is a sensible and future-proof way of meeting the challenges of food traceability. Enterprise Resource Planning provides the basis for collecting all information on production processes in a compact format. One solution that is particularly suitable for small and medium-sized companies is the ERP system Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. However, in order to fully cover the needs of the food industry and, in particular, to meet the challenges of traceability, additional functionalities are required.

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Ensure traceability with ERP industry solution YAVEON ProBatch

YAVEON ProBatch is the right solution to turn a good standard ERP into a special solution suitable for the industry. It is fully integrated into BC and extends the functional scope of the solution. The core element for managing the traceability of food: Batch management including batch tracing. It ensures safety for both companies and consumers by displaying all relevant information on products and their composition at the click of a mouse in the event of recalls and ensuring responsiveness.

How to successfully implement a traceability system 

In order to meet the requirements of food traceability in the long term, companies need system-supported processes. Here are a few steps to help you implement them successfully:

  • 1.

    define specific goals that you want to achieve for traceability. These include, for example, improving product safety, minimizing risk and complying with all laws and regulations.

  • 2.

    carry out a process analysis to identify critical points in your production process and adapt the solution accordingly.

  • 3.

    choose a solution that is compatible with your existing systems so that you can combine benefits and work seamlessly. 

  • 4.

    train the employees involved to enable smooth processes and efficient work.

  • 5.

    take a critical look at the current status on a regular basis in order to identify optimization potential and continuously improve.

  • 6.

    review the compliance requirements and ensure that they are adhered to in order to guarantee maximum security and the ability to respond and provide information.

  • 7.

    rely on software that suits you and your company size and choose a partner who will accompany you through the implementation phase and also be at your side as you grow.

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