There are many challenges to the successful implementation of food traceability. The Global Food Traceability Center has identified the following commonly encountered issues that are faced when trying to execute food traceability:
1. Rapidly shifting consumer preferences. Consumers demand rapid access to reliable and relevant information whenever they want it. There is also an increasing level of discomfort regarding product recalls. Their confidence is fragile. And then there is the power of social networks which cannot be overlooked.
2. There are many overlapping and conflicting demands from national regulators around the world. Different regulations on allergens, trace elements, pesticides and more. Global sourcing means that time zones play a significant role in response times. Food fraud and market substitution for economic gain is also a global challenge.
3. Another challenge is the lack of unifying requirements. Current internal systems do not provide a means for reliable and rapid response to trace back data across the food chain. Additionally, data can be difficult to analyze into relevant decision-making formats.
4. Traceability varies by industry and product. In exploring the numerous implementation projects involving traceability, there are a number of consistent principles that we have observed:
• In Agriculture/Farming/Fishery:
Identification starts with birth of livestock or planting of produce/grain and follows through the growth process, use of pesticide, nutritional records, vet records and transportation to market
• For Food Manufacturers/Processors:
Identification starts at the source for each ingredient and follows through processing, packaging, distribution and transportation
• In Retail and Foodservice:
Identification starts with receiving receipts/invoices to identify lot and batch information with regulations not requiring tracking “one-up” to final consumer
• In Transportation and Distribution:
Commingling points of contact are vectors for spread of disease
Waybills should contain source party and target party identification
Specific locations are needed for livestock in most countries
If products are disaggregated for smaller shipments, then records need to reflect lot/batch codes of the manufacturer or processor
5. In many cases the challenge is simply a lack of records. Increasingly complex products, require more complete traceability systems.
Readability of written documentation leads to the following:
• Human error
• Difficulties in quickly sorting product
• Slow trace back/forward ability
We simply must move toward electronic data management systems.
6. Weak technical systems prohibit rapid response times. Unfortunately, the usability of some technical solutions for small and mid-size firms are questionable. Interoperability from one system to another is lacking, so regulators must spend time creating the comparisons for each emergency. The good news is that technology is not an inhibitor: low cost and effective solutions are available via numerous software solution providers. However interoperability, different systems talking to each other, must be addressed.
Overcoming these challenged is essential to the successful use of traceability to maintain the safety of the food supply.
Will Fisher is the vice president, Science & Policy Initiatives, at the Institute of Food Technologists.