Recent major national and international recalls, coupled with post-9/11 regulatory initiatives, have placed the spotlight on an issue providing all the intensity of a Hollywood drama. The importance of accurate and efficient traceability of our food supply from farm to table has never been more apparent. There has been a surge in the development of systems that seem capable of working magic by generating an incredible amount of product and distribution information by inputting a small amount of data, like a lot code.
Explore this issueJune/July 2007
Lot-code tracking can help food industry participants meet the many responsibilities they are charged with upholding in return for the privilege of producing and supplying food.
Under the U.S. Bioterrorism Act and a 2005 European Union directive, traceability is required by law. Moreover, companies can protect their brands and reputations and reduce costs and liability by precisely tracking finished goods from their component parts all the way to the kitchen table.
Ultimately, the primary reason for lot traceability is to protect consumer health and safety. By accurately and quickly identifying potentially suspect product and all customers to whom it was shipped, manufacturers, suppliers and distributors are better equipped to warn consumers and retrieve affected product as expeditiously as possible.
In its basic form, the lot code is an identifying combination of alpha-numeric characters printed on a product container and case of finished products. Lot or batch codes are also required for all incoming raw materials from suppliers. That way, producers can track each raw material at the door and attach it to subsequent production information in which such materials are used.
The lot code can take different forms, but ultimately must somehow indicate the date – and sometimes even the time – the product was packaged.
The objective of lot-code traceability is to arrive at a total reconciliation of the number of cases of a given product made, all raw materials that went into the product and every location to which that product was shipped.
This goal can be met by using one of many traceability systems. Such systems range from manual processes where personnel must hand-write and catalog every detail to the latest software systems that can spit out any combination of details in a few keystrokes.
The number of products produced in a given facility, as well as the quantity and complexity of ingredients and the sourcing practices for raw materials, are key in determining whether manual or electronic systems will sufficiently meet traceability objectives.