Anyone in the food industry knows recalls or withdrawals are an inevitable food safety measure to keep the public safe. Being able to locate a food product anywhere in the supply chain should be considered a best practice for everyday business, not just something to think about in an emergency event. Staying proactive and vigilant in establishing business processes for recall preparedness can mean a faster, more efficient approach to isolating recalled product.
There are two primary drivers toward improved traceability in the fresh foods industry—legislation, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and an increase in consumer demand for accurate and complete information about the food products, especially fresh foods that are more prone to spoilage, contamination, and potential harm to the public. Traceability combined with good communication and preparedness will ensure minimal damage when a recall or withdrawal is deemed necessary.
To be proactive about recalls, take note of the following best practices.
Do adopt and implement a standards-based approach to enable whole-chain traceability.
Whole-chain traceability means that a company’s internal data and processes used within their own operations to track a product are integrated into a larger system of external data exchange and business processes that take place between trading partners.
For example, the GS1 System of Standards enables companies to uniquely identify products in the supply chain in order to achieve supply chain visibility and efficiency. Using GS1 identification numbers, including the GS1 Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) for product identification, companies around the world can identify trade items as well as supplementary information (expiration date, serial number, and batch/lot number) to facilitate the communication of product-specific information wherever a barcode is scanned.
Both processes are needed to effectively trace product up and down the supply chain. Organizations that fully embrace these processes reap the benefits of enhanced efficiencies and improved consumer trust. Enabling interoperable, automated processes translate to real-time inventory visibility, which is crucial for perishable product and being able to back up claims of freshness. Whole-chain traceability can minimize collateral damage to supply chain participants and consumers, and reduce unforeseen costs (legal, fines, forced renovation, lost contracts, and loss of customer loyalty).
Speaking a common supply chain language with all trading partners means locating potentially harmful product in minutes anywhere in the supply chain if the safety of the product comes into question. These whole-chain traceability processes help a company stay vigilant even before an event to protect their consumers and enhance their customers’ perception of their products in the marketplace.
Traditionally, the consumer used to view all produce suppliers the same and did not pay much attention to brand names. However, fresh foods companies are learning from consumer goods companies’ ability to market themselves and create brand loyalty. This was the trend described in a GS1 US case study showcasing the traceability implementation of SunFed, a privately held full-service produce company in Arizona that grows in 31 locations and delivers a diversity of fresh produce virtually year-round. Elliott Grant, chief technology officer for HarvestMark, SunFed’s technology solution partner, says, “Historically, it has been tough for small- and medium-sized produce companies to create a brand that consumers would recognize consistently. That is changing. Fresh produce brands are emerging and they are taking lessons from consumer goods companies. SunFed has a great brand—it is a quality player that takes extra care in having a perfect product. They now have the ability to tell consumers what is different about a SunFed product—and shoppers become advocates through social media. This opportunity didn’t exist before. Traceability technology communicates benefits to a consumer in a new way and tells the story with integrity.”