Food traceability: definition and regulation

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food process orange juice

Traceability is “the ability to trace the history, application or location of an entity by
means of recorded identifications” according ISO 8402, complementary norm belonging to ISO 9000 group.

Table of contents:

Original pairing

Traceability as is described in ISO 8402 is composed of two main aspects on which the whole concept is built: 

  • Each product must have a codified identification.
  • Historical data on each article or butch must be recorded.

Tools and procedures which link both precedent issues are what origins different traceability systems and where traceability success lies.

Traceability focuses on the premise that each and every of the units of product manufactured must be identified without any kind of doubt, and in addition to that it must be possible to find out main features and parameters linked to its production process in the following terms:

  • Prime mater which has been used.
  • Process it has gone through.
  • Destination after expedition.

So a unique code is linked to one unit or batch and furthermore it is linked to the historical record of that concrete product.

Traceability usefulness

There is no casualty on the need to link product and process. Traceability has a purpose itself, even on non-food industries.

The more ability an organisation has to identify products and inputs, the most power it will have developing diagnosis and detecting improve actions. In other words, traceability does not only respond to a legal or public health requirement, the more information a company has, the most easy it will be to detect:

  • Products’ actual costs.
  • Suppliers’ performance or prime mater quality.
  • Non-conformities’ early detection.
  • Improving plans and opportunities aligned with company actual needs.
food audit industry

In some occasions, as the case of food industry, traceability is also a legal requirement. In this sense, in addition to internal tracking as a tool to improve performance, it is compulsory to design those tools to be used for:

  • Backward traceability matches the capacity to determine prime mater origin, ingredients and auxiliary products used for production.
  • Forward traceability means the awareness of the destiny for each batch, what is necessary if there is the need of a withdrawal.

Traceability in food supply chain

In those cases when an operator is aware that certain food doesn’t match with minimum safety criteria, current law forces that operator to identify and withdraw, as soon as possible, that food with the aim of protecting consumers’ health.

The ability to identify and withdraw a contaminated product is the key to keep safety in food market so it is a public health issue. However, for most traditional traceability systems the period of time needed is not short enough reaching several hours or even days.

In food supply chain traceability attains to the following groups of products:

  • Products for human consumption (eggs, cereals, etc.)
  • Feed for animals intended for human consumption.
  • Ingredients (flour, species, sugar, etc.)
  • Manufactured products (cheese, bread, beer, jelly gums, etc.)
  • Packaging materials (cans, bottles, plastic film, etc.)
  • And also water, gases or extraction solvents used for food production.

Traceability: Purpose or mean?

Despite the fact that traceability is compulsory by law, traceability systems implementation depends on the intended former objective.

Organisations should make an election whether designing a minimum requirements’ system or taking advantage from situation to create tools that permit reaching higher levels of control and awareness.

When traceability system is not the purpose but a mean to reach transparency is when companies start monetizing their investment on traceability efforts. Benefits and added value tracking systems appear in those occasions where traceability fundamentals are not only control and recording, but also improving brand’s image due to transparency.

Traceability systems according to ISO 22005

ISO 22000:2018 standard determines the requirements to design Food Safety Management systems, but it only points to basic principles. For that reason, there is a series of norms, called ISO 22000’s family, that deepen on the aspects needed to accomplish basic requirements as traceability.

ISO 22005 clauses establish that the only compulsory aspect of a traceability system is that it must guarantee the possibility of tracking whatever product. According ISO 22005 organisations traceability systems must be constructed on the following basis:

  • Effectiveness to accomplish with determined objectives.
  • Coherent application to specific organisation
  • It must pursue real product traceability.
  • Financial profitability is perfectly accepted as an election criterion of traceability system.
  • It must be easy to use.
  • Regulatory compliance should be matched.
  • Accuracy on the range and integrity of tracking data.

Traceability as legal requirement and regulation

Traceability is one of the requisites approved by Regulation (CE) n° 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety. In other words, this is the building pillar to food safety legislation for European member states.

Article 18 defines the issues in which traceability must be inspired by:

  • Traceability must be ensured in each food or feed production step.
  • Exploiters will run systems and procedures that permit tracing who has supplied every product, and communicating that information to authorities.
  • Exploiters will put into practice systems and procedures that permit identifying product destination, and communicating that information to authorities.
  • Label becomes the main tool to trace foodstuff inside the EU.

This eighteenth article is the most extended reference to be found in the whole regulatory frame regards traceability. Despite its simplicity, it gathers all that is indispensable in food safety terms, permitting organisation freedom to develop their own means.

Traceability in GFSI-recognised certification programmes

Private standards, which are voluntary to organisations, shape in-depth how traceability should be performed, and how its effectiveness should be assessed.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) ascertains the requisites that must be evaluated by private standards to become recognised certifications. This means that norms as BRC, IFS, FSSC 22000, SQF, GLOBALG.A.P or any other norm to be GFSI-recognised must audit the following traceability requisites:

  • Operators will set a traceability system and will keep the appropriate recording in relation to:
    • Identification of any source coming from external source whether it’s an ingredient, auxiliary product or a service.
    • Batch recording for inner traceability, finished products and packaging.
    • Buyer and destiny records for every delivered product.
  • Traceability must be effective including process steps, by-products treatment and reprocessing.
  • Records will keep pointedly identification along every step of the process, including transport and storage.
  • Organisations must have procedures that identify products permanently until final delivery.
  • Traceability programmes will be tested, at least, once a year and the obtained results will be recorded.
  • Operators will be capable to withdraw products in an efficient and safe manner, and will keep related records. Annual simulation will be done.
  • Responsibilities will be clearly defined for: traceability, system’s revision, and withdrawals.

Food chain liaison importance

Food chain actors must understand that encoding and tracking batches evenness are the most important principles to allow for. Basically because it is the only way that agile and comprehensive tracking system can be applied globally.

However food supply chain operators could choose taking part of blockchain platforms as TRAZABLE. This fact would redound for the sake of obtained data’s improvement, quickness and reliability.

In these terms, TRAZABLE is able to guarantee, by means of its blockchain platform, traceability tests that take only few seconds. Then there is data reliability which is virtually inviolable once have been uploaded to the platform.

Responsiveness in locating a non-conforming batch, and prevent major public health issues is on the one hand proportional to the level of coordination between operators. On the other hand the key is also the effectiveness in recovering accurate data. Former affirmations are the reason why traceability’s quality is an unwavering principle to food safety.

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