Traceability explained

The term “traceability” means different things to different people.

The most common interpretation deals with the physical movements of products, often described as “track and trace”, meaning the ability to follow a product’s movements: to look back to see its roots and to look ‘forward’ to see where it has gone.

However, the physical origin of a product is only one element of its history that can be important. Firstly, brand owners or consumers may want to know the history of all the product’s ingredients or components, and not just details of the final product. Secondly, the product may have been subject to processes or conditions that affect its acceptability - for example, traceability should show whether appropriate safety and quality controls were applied, and whether storage conditions were used that avoid deterioration. Thirdly, there could be ancillary conditions that define the product - such as, whether it was produced sustainably, whether free trade rules were applied or whether child labour was avoided.

A good explanation of traceability applied to food can be found at www.foodtraceability.eu

FoodReg takes the broadest possible interpretation of “traceability”. We can link any attribute to any ingredient, component, process or product, at any stage where information is recorded. None of this information is lost when items are transported, split down, mixed or transformed (for example, when food ingredients are cooked).

Confidential information can be incorporated alongside public information.  Therefore, some elements of a product history (such as the price paid for ingredients) may be available for internal analysis, or for provision to trusted partners, but not be visible to those without right to access this data.

The degree of precision provided by traceability can be determined for each implementation. Usually this is a trade-off between the operational complications of gathering data on small quantities and the precision required. Packaged products can be traced down to the individual product, but it is more common to identify and record products by batches.

The degree of completeness of chain traceability is also a variable that can be determined based on practical considerations and the desired level of final data. Ideally, every movement of a product and every process it undergoes is recorded. However, useful traceability can be achieved even if some steps in the chain are skipped, and in some cases it is considered sufficient to have a link back to original production data without being worried about what happened in the chain of distribution - and this can be achieved if the product carries a fixed identification.

The methods of identification can also be determined for each traceability implementation, and different methods of identification can be used at different stages of the lifetime of a product or its components. The simplest method of identification is a unique number applied directly to a product or to a sealed box containing the product. In the real world, it is not always so simple, since products and ingredients may be stored and moved in bulk (such as liquids and grains), and simple number identification doesn’t work when products are mixed and transformed. Effective traceability links together disparate data regardless of identifier methodology.

FoodReg can provide traceability systems for any kind of situation or requirement.  Please click here.