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Traceability in your Food Business

May 27, 2016

by Kristen Palynchuk, Food Industry Quality Coach, The Quality Coach


In light of a string of numerous Listeria-related recalls, effective and efficient traceability is key to improving consumers’ trust in the food industry. Both large and small players need to actively participate in improving traceability systems. In this article I aim to break down the term traceability for a smaller operation and demonstrate how to implement and collect the data to achieve a working traceability system. With every food safety and quality management program, the effectiveness must be measured through verification activities – which will also be outlined for the small manufacturer.

Meet Industriy Stages. Beef Steak Processing 3d Web Isometric Infographic Vector Concept. From Factory Production to Consumer Table. Production and Supply Chain of the Food Industries.Meet Industry Stages. Beef Steak Processing 3d Web Isometric Infographic Vector Concept. From Factory Production to Consumer Table. Production and Supply Chain of the Food Industries.

The CODEX Alimentarius defines traceability as the “ability to follow the movement of food through specified stage(s) of production, processing and distribution”. Traceability can also be described as being able to exactly account for and balance what has come in (amount, lot code) with what has come out, whether by waste or by product.

I like to also think of traceability as being able to immediately identify the 5 Ws at each process activity. The 5 Ws involves being able to answer: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. These are answered through record-keeping, and as you grow, also through inventory and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Example 1 – Receiving rice flour as a raw material: Who received the ingredient? Who is the Supplier? What ingredient is being received? What is the lot code/batch code of the ingredient? Where did the ingredient come from (which facility, country, farm)? When was the ingredient received (date/shift)? Why were there any discrepancies in what was received vs. the Bill of Lading?

Example 2 – Mixing five batches of Gluten-Free Shortbread Cookies: Who is making the batches? Who is the Customer? What recipe is being batched? What is the unique batch code (should involve batch number, batch descriptor, and date)? Where is the batch going (stored in labelled bin, oven rack number, etc.)? When was the batch made? Why was there any overage or shortage?

Example 3 – Shipping two pallets of Wholesome Foods-brand Gluten-Free Shortbread Cookies to the Wholesome Foods Ontario Warehouse: Who is shipping out the product? Who is the Customer? What product is being shipped out? What is the lot code and best before date of the product? Where is the product being shipped (directly to store, to a warehouse, etc.)? When was the finished product packaged? When was the finished product shipped? Why was there any overage or shortage of the order?

The above are just a few scenarios where traceability details need to be captured. Other scenarios include further processing activities, the packaging of the finished product, and instances of product loss.

butchers packing meat pieces in butcheryButchers packing meat pieces in butchery.

So how do you capture this information? You will need to generate a series of records. This includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Receiving Record – Capture incoming raw materials (including packaging), very important to include the supplier, the amount, and the lot code.
  1. Batching Records – Recipe sheets in which the amount of ingredient scaled has been confirmed, along with the lot code of each ingredient used. It is also important to generate a unique batch code that can be tracked throughout the process and can easily be cross-referenced with the final product lot code.
  1. Production Records – At minimum confirming number of finished units produced.
  1. Loss Records – Critical, and often overlooked: capturing waste of ingredients, in-process units, and finished products is key to being able to account for any discrepancies in a mass-balance exercise.
  1. Shipping Record – Capturing number of units and the lot code of finished product being shipped out, the transportation information (driver name and company), and recording where the product is going.

The sooner you are able to set up a series of traceability records, the sooner you will have peace of mind in your program. An important way to test the effectiveness of your traceability system is to conduct regular documented mock recalls, in which you would simulate a recall situation with a raw material and a finished product. A mock recall reviews all associated records and determines if the quantity and lot in question can be accounted for through all stages of the process.