Food Traceability: A Comprehensive Guide

The food journey from farm to fork has become significantly more complex, making food safety more challenging. The need for food transparency has surged; I stumbled upon an interesting take that the food traceability market is expected to reach $35.8 ...

What is food traceability

The food journey from farm to fork has become significantly more complex, making food safety more challenging. The need for food transparency has surged; I stumbled upon an interesting take that the food traceability market is expected to reach $35.8 billion by 2033.

Food traceability is an integral part of the food and beverage industry and has always been a major topic of discussion and interest. The new FSMA traceability rule has brought even more attention to it, but while everybody is buzzing around the topic, we want to stop and break it down.

In this article, you will learn about food traceability, its benefits, requirements, legal basis, and more.

What is food traceability?

Food traceability is a supply chain management tool that refers to a business’s ability to trace food products and their ingredients from the beginning to the finished product. In other words, you must be able to control food products throughout the whole supply chain forwards and backward. Food traceability involves all food production processes in your facility.

Traceability can be upstream, meaning tracing the product from customer to supplier, or downstream, which means monitoring food from a food manufacturer to a consumer.

Tracking and tracing of food require documenting and linking the production, processing, and distribution stages. So, if an outbreak or contamination happens, it’s easier to find the source of the product, where in the supply chain the incident occurred, and withdraw the contaminated product from the market, safeguarding consumers’ health.

How is food traced?

Advanced technologies help effectively track and trace food in the supply chain. These include barcode scanning, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and blockchain technology.

Barcode scanning

The barcode scanning method involves adding a unique barcode to each food product. You can scan the barcode and read its information, including the origin, production, and distribution data.

Barcode scanning for food trace

Barcodes are a cost-effective solution for retrieving information from the database at any stage of the food supply chain. However, the method has drawbacks, such as errors or limited equipment.

Overall, barcodes are a good way to ensure access to product information, boost recall processes, and achieve transparency and consumer loyalty.

Did you know that FoodReady is an executive solution and channel partner of GS1 – a not-for-profit international organization that manages barcode standards? The organization operates the barcodes, including GLN (Global Location Number) and GTIN (Global Trade Item Number).

RFID Tags

RFID (radio-frequency identification) electronic tags are attached to each product and contain all the information that can be read by a scanner. Although RFID tags are more reliable than barcodes, they are also more expensive.

Blockchain

Blockchain technology has promising perspectives in food traceability. It is a decentralized ledger that stores information about each transaction. The technology’s benefits are security and tamper-resistance.

Nevertheless, the method is costly and still needs barcodes or tags. It’s also not fully compatible with the supply chain yet.

The traceability method is only one component of the efficient food traceability system, and you can choose whatever is applicable and affordable for you. It also involves a coordinated approach from all the stakeholders involved in the supply chain.

Why is food traceability important?

We can generalize that traceability in the food industry is crucial, but let’s discuss the aspects that define its significance more specifically.

Why is food traceability important

Food safety

The primary reasons why food traceability is essential are food safety and public health.

It’s indisputable that food traceability is pivotal in preventing food safety issues and ensuring the quality of food products.

Food traceability allows food manufacturers, processors, and distributors to identify the source of a foodborne illness, outbreak, or contamination. Furthermore, as traceability principles foresee, recordkeeping allows them to assess the extent of the food safety problem.

Supply chain optimization

Food traceability ensures transparency in the supply chain. Once you implement a traceability system, you’ll get an optimized supply chain.

Customer safety and satisfaction

One objective of traceability is to inform consumers. A substantial benefit of a food traceability system is consumer trust and brand integrity. Using this system demonstrates that you are a responsible business that cares about your customers.

Cost reduction

Traceability helps avoid costly food recalls or minimizes its expense. The quicker you find the source of contamination and deal with it, the more money you save.

Better recall management

“Traceability and recall” is a widespread word combination, and that has a reason. Tracing a product significantly facilitates the recall process. When suddenly your product is withdrawn from the market, you don’t get lost in the supply chain. You quickly identify the spot where it happened and also identify the areas of cross-contamination.

Emergency planning

If we consider emergency planning, food traceability will help at any of its stages:

  • Traceability boosts preparedness, making businesses more ready for potential issues arising.
  • With a traceability system, stakeholders can promptly respond to an incident.
  • Traceability makes food businesses more resilient and able to rebuild their reputation among consumers.
  • Traceability helps prevent future problems through root-cause analysis.

Regulatory compliance

Food traceability is an essential aspect of regulatory compliance. The U.S. and other countries require food businesses to have a traceability system. You will stay compliant with legal and regulatory requirements and get greater access to domestic and international markets.

Talking about the U.S., you must follow the FDA requirements for traceability.

Food traceability is the basis for many vital food and beverage industry aspects. You just can’t do without it. Let’s move on and see how you can improve your brand’s food traceability.

FDA Traceability Requirements

We decided to emphasize the FDA’s core traceability requirement. It will also help us determine who is required to trace food.

Generally, all food and beverage companies need to implement a food traceability system, but let’s discuss it in more detail.

The FDA has introduced the FSMA Final Rule on Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods, which requires that those who manufacture, process, pack, or hold food included on the Food Traceability List (FTL) follow traceability recordkeeping requirements.

The FSMA 204 Food Traceability List includes (but is not limited to):

  • Many fresh fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, melons, sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, tropical tree fruits, and fresh-cut items.
  • Cheeses, other than hard cheeses.
  • Shell eggs.
  • Nut butter.
  • Some categories of seafood.
  • Ready-to-eat deli salads (refrigerated).

The FSMA 204 rule mandates that the persons covered by the rule maintain records, including Key Data Elements (KDEs) associated with specific Critical Tracking Events (CTEs).

They must also provide information to the FDA within 24 hours or within reasonable and agreed-upon time.

The CTEs required are:

  • Harvesting
  • Cooling
  • Initial Packing
  • First Land-Based Receiver
  • Shipping
  • Receiving
  • Transformation

The FDA developed a flexible risk-ranking model that covers many potential contaminants that could occur in FDA-regulated human foods, which is how they form a food traceability list.

The Model scores commodity-hazard pairs according to the criteria:

  • Frequency of outbreaks and occurrences of illnesses.
  • Severity of illness.
  • Manufacturing process contamination probability and industry-wide intervention.
  • Likelihood of contamination.
  • Cost of illness.
  • Consumption rate and the amount consumed.
  • The potential for pathogen growth, with consideration of shelf life.

Food Traceability Rules and Principles

An effective traceability system is a massive step towards your food safety goals. It has requirements and rules, so let’s discuss them more.

Business information: Food businesses must indicate information about a manufacturer, processor, etc., like name, registration details, contact information, and food traceability management plan. The information has to be accessible on agency or customer demand.

Product information: The information should include aspects of the product, such as the country of origin, production date, shelf-life or expiration date, traceability lot codes, recipe, batch information, etc.

Recordkeeping: You must record suppliers that provide ingredients and the businesses you supply. The documentation should include the name and address of suppliers and facilities you supply, quantities, types of products, shipping and receiving dates, batch numbers, invoices, purchase receipts, etc.

Supplier information: You must have a comprehensive supplier management system and collect all the information related to suppliers.

Corrective actions: In case of a food safety issue, the food safety team must have a prepared CAPA plan to address the problem quickly and efficiently.

Integrated systems: A traceability system must be implemented in each supply chain management stage. It includes compatibility with all digital tools used by the business and stakeholders.

What are the Traceability Challenges in the Food and Beverage Industry?

As with anything else, food traceability can be associated with challenges. It doesn’t mean your food and beverage company will face them; you just need to be aware of them.

Complex Supply Chain

The complexity of the supply chain can make implementing a traceability system difficult. Food and its ingredients move through different places and stakeholders, making it complicated to trace the products. Traceability demands even more attention in the international market.

Food and beverage companies must handle this challenge to ensure regulatory compliance of their products.

Costly Technology Implementation and Maintenance

Traceability system management requires engaging a digital solution that can sometimes be too expensive or time-consuming in terms of installation, training, and maintenance. This can prevent companies from consistently and accurately managing traceability data.

Data Privacy

As long as the data is shared across the supply chain, there are potential risks of personal or corporate data leakage, which can cause reputation damage.

Data Analysis

The more complex your supply chain, the more difficult it is to collect and analyze data across multiple places and parties. To automate and simplify the process, you should implement a centralized data management platform.

Legal and Regulatory Requirements

As a food manufacturer, processor, distributor, etc., you must adhere to the laws regulating the supply chain. If you are in the international market, your business has even more legal compliance responsibilities.

Moreover, remember the FDA traceability requirements and the FSMA 204 rule compliance in January 2026.

Facing potential difficulties might scare you, but it will save you from problems in the long run. The struggle with working on traceability will be worth the content consumers, your brand integrity, food safety, and profitability.

What’s more, with today’s digital solutions, you can minimize any difficulties in your food business operations.

How to Choose the Right Food Traceability System?

Food traceability requires a comprehensive approach. Now that you know what challenges and opportunities it can present, you must choose wisely the right system to achieve it.

Choosing the right food traceability system

Needs Analysis

Identify your specific needs for food traceability, such as the company’s size, the extent of the supply chain, and the regulatory requirements you must comply with. A bakery and a vast food manufacturer will most likely have different requests for the traceability system.

Consider How Scalable the System Is

Imagine the hypothetical bakery from the paragraph above has grown and needs more powerful resources. For this reason, a scalable system that will adjust according to its growth is required from the very beginning.

Choose a scalable traceability system that will integrate with your existing tools (or substitute them).

Consider Convenience

The system must be easy to use and require a reasonable amount of time and effort to implement. The more comprehensive and intuitive the system is, the better.

It Has To Oversee the Whole Supply Chain

The food traceability system must cover each stage of the supply chain, from raw materials to retail. Otherwise, it will not be effective.

Pay Attention to Data Security

Traceability involves sharing a lot of confidential information, so make sure the system you choose prioritizes data security to avoid undesirable situations where the data can be misused or shared with unauthorized persons.

Traceability, Digitized by FoodReady

Any challenge with implementing a food traceability system is just a potential milestone toward the goal. Nowadays, it’s a no-brainer that you can engage a software solution in your food business and make food traceability a breeze.

Since FSMA 204 rule compliance has become a significant topic of discussion, doing so will help you in this pursuit.

FoodReady’s food safety and traceability software is equipped with top-notch features like batch and recipe management, inventory management, recall management, and GS1 Barcode Scanning to help you get FSMA compliant before the compliance date.

FoodReady software is a cost-effective solution that requires minimum effort and expertise to start using. It incorporates the latest technology to replace paperwork and ensure efficient data analysis, centralized access, data security, and effectiveness.

Our traceability, inventory, and food safety software fosters digitized food safety and strives to power the world’s supply chain. We work to simplify the lives of food manufacturers, processors, and distributors and achieve their food safety goals, including those requiring a food traceability system.

Amanda Turner, the QA Manager at True Essence Foods, addressed FoodReady to help with SQF certification. Later, she noted that our software’s traceability tools had helped them achieve their SQF goal.

By the way, you can read more about implementing an effective traceability plan for SQF compliance.

The FoodReady software will help you track and trace lots and batches, control expiration dates, track inventory, and do it from receiving to shipping a finished product. You will also worry less about the recalls as our food recall consultants will help you create a recall plan and support you every step of the way.

Feel free to contact our sales team for the information you need. Hire FoodReady and its FSMA 204 consultants to streamline your traceability and prepare for the FDA final rule compliance date!

Conclusion

Food traceability is a growing and permanent trend. If you are in the food industry and want to provide a safe product, you will definitely deal with food traceability. Your task is to ensure that the food product you receive and sell is well-traced, and you can catch any inconsistency wherever the ingredient or ready product is.

Let’s see the key points from the article to sum it up:

  • You can use barcodes, RFID tags, or blockchain technology for traceability.
  • Food traceability brings numerous benefits, such as improved food safety, regulatory compliance, cost reduction, and better emergency response.
  • Food traceability is regulated by the FDA and its FSMA 204 rule.
  • Traceability also has other rules and principles like recordkeeping, CAPA management, information requirements, etc.
  • You can face challenges when implementing a food traceability system, but remember that its advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
  • Choose a traceability system wisely to ensure it covers your needs and helps efficiently and safely track and trace the products forward and backward.

Paperwork has become counterproductive, so as the FDA recommends, contemplate implementing food traceability software to improve your performance. FoodReady food traceability software will help you with that!

FAQs

Who regulates food traceability?

It’s the FDA that provides the final rule for food traceability.

What is the ISO standard for food traceability?

ISO 22005:2007 is the standard for feed and food traceability systems.

What is traceability in HACCP?

Traceability is an integral part of the HACCP approach. It helps monitor and identify hazards in the supply chain.

What technologies help manage food traceability?

Software solutions, IoT devices, QR codes, barcode scanners, and other essential digital tools help with food traceability.

What are the components of food traceability?

Food traceability components are:
1. Tracking – monitoring the location of a product or batch at any stage of the production process.
2. Tracing (batch records or electronic batch records) – documenting the product movement in the production chain.

What is the difference between traceability and recall?

Traceability is the process of monitoring food and its ingredients throughout the supply chain. Recall means removing contaminated food from the supply chain to resolve a food safety issue further.

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Picture of Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks

Saro Loucks is the Director of Content and a Food Safety Advisor for FoodReady. Saro is certified in HACCP and a trained SQF Practitioner. When Saro is not editing, writing, or advising new customers on what food safety goals they should pursue, she enjoys spending time with her family, baking gluten-free sourdough bread, and playing Mahjong.
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