The 4-Step Guide to Food Traceability

food traceability

Food traceability has its roots in 1930s Europe, where countries wanted proof that high-end products like French champagne were indeed products of the regions claimed on labels.

Today, traceability takes on many different forms. Food manufacturers need to have powerful systems in place to manage traceability, Why? There are increasing regulatory requirements to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses and respond to recalls promptly. Like citizens 90 years ago, traceability is also needed to satisfy consumer demand for ingredients and foods from a global market.

Traceability has two essential components:

  1. Tracing provides a history of each food product’s journey throughout the supply chain, from farms that produce ingredients to how those ingredients are combined to where those finished goods are inventoried on-site. Tracing offers a transparent picture of a product’s history from its origins forward.
  2. Tracking allows for the accurate identification of a product’s journey after it leaves a manufacturing facility up to its final destination, whether that is a restaurant, grocery store or consumer. 

Both tracking and tracing can be done on an individual unit or batch basis. No matter what process is used, these weighty responsibilities require technology solutions that monitor processes, from ordering to production to inventory to transportation. These same solutions need to enable powerful, real-time track and trace functions throughout the supply chain.

With so many requirements and pressures facing food and beverage manufacturers, it is important to understand why traceability is essential and what companies can do to ensure they are compliant and responsive to demand. Below is the 4-step guide to food supply chain traceability.


1. Understand the Positive Benefits of Traceability

Traceability is critically important for several reasons, including:

  • Preventing Foodborne Illness

Ingredients and food products are now being sourced through a global supply chain. As the world’s populations mingle and settle in far corners of the Earth, people expect access to tastes and products from their natural and adopted homes. With more exposure to different foods and ingredients, tracing origins helps prevent outbreaks of harmful pathogens such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella.

  • Promoting Sustainability

Traceability can verify sustainability claims made by farmers, food manufacturers and brands. Certification programs, such as those run by Bonsucro for the sugarcane industry, can reduce emissions and promote sustainable growing programs. Launched in 2011, Bonsucro’s certification program resulted in a 323,000-ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Creating Better Business Practices

Consumers demand more traceability, expressing a preference for products grown organically and using sustainable practices.

  • Increasing Market Share

When done properly, traceability allows food producers to offer new products, flavor profiles and preparations that resonate with consumers’ ever-evolving preferences with confidence. Traceability helps grow market share with the lowest possible risk profile for new products.

2. Be Aware of Challenges and Threats to Food Safety

Traceability is becoming more and more important worldwide. The global food supply is a complex maze of producers, manufacturers, distributors, providers and end-users. As the food supply has become global in scope, it must address major country-by-country differences in industrial processes, regulatory requirements and ever-evolving consumer tastes. Finally, customer awareness about food safety has never been higher. Companies face major legal exposure and PR disasters when foodborne illness breaks out.

In addition, the manufacturing wing needs to address other threats, including:

  • Fraudulent activity and counterfeit products in the global food chain
  • Sourced products and ingredients from countries with lackluster or nonexistent traceability and food safety protocols
  • Increased risk for contamination due to large and complex supply chains
  • Risks of terrorism to the food supply

Without sound traceability protocols in place, companies face considerable problems in the case of a recall or food safety issue, including economic loss due to recalls and loss of consumer confidence.

3. Leverage Industrial Relationships

Industries and particular sectors have resources committed to helping companies understand the complexities, regulations, obligations and opportunities traceability represents. One example is the Institute of Food Technologists’ Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC).

The GFTC helps food companies trace products throughout the supply chain, reduce risk, ensure public safety and minimize economic loss. The center also provides tools for seafood traceability and consumer preferences, access to journal articles, white papers and briefs; newsletters, presentations and webinars and guidance documents.

The GFTC has also funded or partnered with the industry on eight projects to improve traceability. They provide interesting insights into the opportunities for companies going forward, including:

  1. A report on how food traceability relates to an overall food protection plan
  2. An ongoing traceability webcast series
  3. An assessment of the capacity for traceability systems that will help in the design and development of traceability programs in nine Caribbean countries
  4. A report comparing global food traceability regulations and requirements
  5. A guide for government regulators on some of the best practices in food traceability, urging the use of uniform data collection and record-keeping guidelines
  6. The seafood traceability financial tool and consumer preference tool, based on research into the use of traceability to reduce waste, improve consumer trust and increase efficiency
  7. An in-process interoperable traceability architecture that would give all participants a blueprint for understanding roles within the system
  8. An in-process public-private partnership to combat fishing and seafood fraud issues in southeast Asia.


4. Take Steps Needed to Improve Traceability

With the advent of new federal regulations via the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), manufacturers face increasing government scrutiny into their supply chain operations. To maintain compliance and create sound business processes, there are several important steps companies should take:

  • Know the Regulations

FSMA includes rules dictating the following:

  • The preventive controls required to be in place at a food manufacturing facility
  • Third-party verification of food and ingredients within a supply chain (including those from foreign sources)
  • The need for stringent records and retention
  • Sanitary transportation and recalls. 

Many of these guidelines are now in effect and require new documentation, procedures and reporting mandates.

  • Complete an Audit

A comprehensive audit helps identify any flaws in processes related to traceability and can be done by an accrediting organization or an internal audit process.

  • Assess Equipment

Each piece of equipment should be evaluated and inspected regularly to make sure it is working properly, to confirm that any repairs or replacements needed to ensure efficient operations are completed and to ensure that problems are solved early.

  • Understand the Sector

While traceability is an important issue for every manufacturer, there are sector-specific issues that require specific knowledge. Requirements for fresh food, for example, can vary widely from country to country regarding products, sourcing and labeling.

  • Collaborate Across the Supply Chain

Technology today helps supply chain partners stay connected and share information, guidance and solutions related to traceability procedures. Transparency helps to ensure that the best solutions are performed quickly and accurately.

  • Focus on Efficiency

Downtime and waste are two major problems for many food manufacturers. Implementing a new traceability plan is an opportunity to look closely at processes and improve efficiency in these and other operational areas.

  • Establish Policy

Policy documents ensure that procedures are documented and adhered to, reducing the risk of errors and liability. Such documents help employees, contractors, suppliers, distributors and users to follow proper guidance on food items and ingredients.

  • Educate as Necessary

Employees, suppliers and distributors need to be trained in the policies and procedures necessary to ensure proper compliance with traceability.

  • Be Prepared

Worst-case scenarios, however unlikely, can happen. Food manufacturers that are prepared for these eventualities will have the tools in place to be nimble, flexible and adaptable no matter what comes their way (like a global pandemic, for example).

  • Anticipate the Future

As you add equipment and other resources, it is often prudent to anticipate future demand and capacity needs and make purchases that allow for flexibility and scalability.


FoodBusiness ERP is an all-in-one software solution for the food and beverage industry. It comes with all the functionality needed to manage finance and operations, production, food safety, compliance, quality, traceability and more. To learn more about how FoodBusiness ERP can help support your traceability efforts, reach out to us. We’d love to chat.


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