Such a system can also be used defensively or offensively in a product quality claim or dispute, in conjunction with an internally or externally activated stock recovery, market withdrawal, recall, or related to an outbreak investigation. One of the key benefits of a good traceability system is that it expedites removing your company from the implicated pool of suppliers in the event of a recall or outbreak. Another benefit is that it can rapidly and efficiently provide implicated lot information for public health investigators as they conduct a traceback effort based on epidemiological evidence. Equally, rapid and definitive tracking allows you to communicate clearly and in a timely manner with your customers and, ultimately, your customer’s customers along the supply chain.
The Required Elements
The requirements of a good traceability system are capturing and recording the key data elements at the critical tracking events.
Critical tracking events are those instances where product is moved between premises, is transformed, or any instance that is determined to be a point where data capture is necessary for effective tracing. Specifically, the critical tracking events are:
- Transformation input (used to create another product or item);
- Transformation output (product creation or manipulation);
- Disposal; and
The ability to query and extract key data elements in a seamless manner is critical. The key data elements that should be digitally captured, stored, and electronically retrievable are:
- Item number or Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) and uniquely identifiable product description*;
- Quantity on hand;
- Physical location at which the product was last handled, whether at the packer, processor, or another location;
- Incoming lot number(s) of product received;
- Amount of product created, packed, shipped, consumed, or eliminated from lot association;
- Continuity of an incoming lot or record of lots included—for example, following comingling or repacking to create a new lot code;
- All physical locations to which cases were shipped;
- Lot number(s) shipped to each location;
- Date(s) and time(s) product was received and/or shipped to all locations;
- Date(s) and time(s) each lot was packed, processed, or harvested; and
- If applicable, all ingredients used in product, with lot numbers, facility at which they were manufactured, and date(s) and time(s) they were received.
There are many system applications that record the key data elements at all critical tracking events in use in the fresh produce industry today. Some of these applications are utilizing the blockchain data sharing protocol while others run on proprietary databases. These applications are designed to provide supply chain transparency while also providing traceability. The value of these visibility platforms is to gain a supply chain-wide view of the products from harvest through to point of sale to the consumer to identify when there are delays, unnecessary steps, or less-than-ideal conditions. It is reasonable to anticipate that transparency in time temperature controls for food safety, alluded to briefly below, would also be captured and visible in modern traceability systems.
Complete “mass balance” of each lot is an attainable goal of sound traceability systems. Ability to account for 100 percent of product received or created is a must. It is equally as imperative for lot number and manufacturing facility to appear on each case of product, and lot number(s), quantity, and shipping location to appear on invoices and bills of lading as well.
A fresh produce industry best practice capable of executing case-level tracking is the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) label, which is foundational in functioning as the bridge between the physical goods and any of the tracked information that would be contained within blockchain’s virtual ledger—composed of blocks of linked and sequential data. All traceability systems should be regularly audited, and effectiveness of recall implementation tested to ensure the procedures and training are current and effective.