Take the Anxiety out of Recall Management Part Three:

Three Key Elements to Achieving Traceability

The importance of food traceability is unquestionable. It helps food companies adhere to government regulations, it protects a food company’s brand, and it helps companies to grow by investing in new opportunities. In the 2nd part of this series, we outlined who needs traceability and we established the business case for achieving traceability in food plants regardless of the size.  Many companies want to revisit their current recall management practices, but the topic of food traceability can be overwhelming and confusing. Food processing plants can be extremely complex regardless of their size. In some cases, the smallest processing facilities have the most complex operations. Thankfully achieving traceability can be simplified into three key elements.

First Key Element: Initial Product Identification  

The first key element is the initial product identification. From the moment a product enters a plant it must have a unique identifier. The unique identifier ties that product back to its point of origin. The identifier will follow the product all the way through the production facility. The unique identifier will look different depending on the product. The first category of received product is boxed product. Boxed product is typically labeled with a barcode. This could be boxed meat, spices, or other dry goods. If the received product isn’t already labeled with an industry standard GS1 barcode (we will review GS1 barcodes farther down) then that product must be labeled upon entry to the facility.

The second category of receiving is livestock receiving. If you are tracking an animal as it enters a plant it will be identified with either an ear tag, tattoo, or receiving lot number. It is important to note that animals are tracked differently depending on the species. Larger animals like cattle are typically tracked individually by their ear tag. Once cattle go through the slaughter process ear tags are replaced with carcass tags. Smaller animals like pigs are either processed by receiving lot, tattoo number, or both. How companies track animals through the slaughter process will depend greatly on the amount of throughput they have as well as by the level of traceability they require.

No matter the product, all products going into inventory must be uniquely identified. Once product has been properly labeled and put away into inventory it is ready to be scanned into production batches.

Second Key Element: Product Movement Through Production Processes 

Once product has been received and labeled with a barcode it can be moved around the plant, and it can be brought into production. With the use of mobile computers and scanners product can be scanned out of inventory and into production batches. As products are consumed into production batches new products are created. These new products consist of all the associated inputs (raw meat, ingredients, packaging etc.). The new products are then weighed, and new product labels are created. The new product labels will have unique serial numbers in the barcodes. These new serial numbers will correlate back to all the serial numbers of all the inputs consumed into the batch. Eventually finished goods are produced. Once the finished goods have been weighted and labeled they are sent to inventory.  

Third Key Element: Product Information for Inventory Control

The final key component to traceability is product information. Throughout the entire production process product is weighed and labeled. Product labels contain a lot of production information including company prefix, product description, weight, date AI, and serial number. Product information should be available in the office using the plant MES / ERP system or viewable using a mobile computer to scan the product barcode. Product information is key. It tells the story of where a product came from and what other products are associated with it. The product information should also show the status of where the product is at that time. By scanning the product barcode an operator should be able to tell if the product should be in production, inventory or ready to be picked and shipped.  

Production information should be established using an industry standard such as the GS1 Global Language. GS1 barcodes drastically enhance the product related information. GS1 is a global, neutral, non-profit standards organization that was created to help bring efficiency and transparency to the supply chain. Food producers can register with GS1 and receive a company prefix that will go into that company’s barcodes. This will enable anyone along the supply chain to scan a product label to see all the relevant product data. Labeling product with a GS1 barcode is essential for processing facilities that ship product to large food retailers or distribution facilities. This information is also required if product is being shipped internationally.  

Achieve Traceability by Focusing on the Three Key Elements

Recall management practices can be enhanced by avoiding distractions and focusing on the three key elements of achieving traceability: product identification, product movement, and product information. By focusing on a plant’s current processes in each one of those areas processors can tighten their recall management capabilities. Next month we will be looking at how to select the right plant system. Food plants come in many shapes and sizes and so do plant software solutions. We will walk you through how to select the correct solution and solution provider based on your plant’s needs.  

FREE ebook Food Traceability for Dummies! Click here to get your copy.

Written by: Andy Cumpton, Sales and Marketing – Carlisle Technology

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