Traceability in the supply chain serves to meet many broad goals of the fresh food producer. Food safety, quality control, waste reduction, sustainability, etc., all benefit from sound supply chain traceability and the responsibility usually falls to a cross-functional group of team members from different departments within the company.

Keys to success

The complexities of supply chain traceability can intimidate even the smoothest running operations, but the key to success is knowing that the responsibility does not only belong to one person, one company, or even one entity. “Traceability, just like food safety, is a pre-competitive issue that requires the collaboration and cooperation of all stakeholders including your own suppliers and customers, your competitors, regulators as well as consumers,” says Tejas Bhatt, director, Global Food Traceability Center GFTC), Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). Several resources exist for companies to start understanding how they can get a grasp of what’s needed for traceability success, including finding out what has worked and not worked for others, Bhatt adds.


Bhatt says that the research indicates that the best practices for traceability cover all categories of the industry. “It doesn’t matter if you are in the fresh foods, meat and poultry, processed foods, bakery, seafood or other food sectors, the information required to enable traceability at its foundation is simple: all we need to know is the who, what, when, where, why and how for the foods that flow through the supply chain,” he says. Today’s fresh food producers already keep track of the essential data needed to maintain records of what’s going in and coming out of the facility. “What is lacking is an ability to assimilate, analyze and share this data in a meaningful way to allow actionable decisions to be made on that data,” Bhatt says.

While technology and software play important roles in traceability of the supply chain, companies must use them in the right ways to ensure their practices are meaningful. “Technology in itself is not the answer to traceability. Buying the most expensive software out there will not make your supply chain traceable overnight,” Bhatt says. “Technology is a tool that can be used to enable traceability after incorporating it with everything a company does with its people, products, processes and places.”

Sorting it out

Facilities receive and process so many different items from different suppliers and then send their products on to a list of different customers that traceability can seem futile. IFT’s GFTC has come up with a method to maintain traceability throughout the entire process. The HACCP inspired methodology accounts for all the complexities involved.

“Essentially, we break traceability down into two fundamental principles: Identifying Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) along a supply chain or production process of the food where one of four things can happen: creation, transformation, transportation, or depletion. A transformation CTE is one where multiple ingredients get aggregated into a single finished good product (or multiple batches of a fresh food get mixed to create one batch of the fresh food) or vice versa (where one batch of fresh food gets broken into multiple batches of the fresh food),” Bhatt says. “Then, at each CTE, we identify the key data elements that need to be captured to enable traceability (who, what, when, where, why, how). Using these simple principles, fresh food producers can enable traceability across multiple types of complex operations along the supply chain.”

Coming this year

Under section 204 of FSMA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was required to conduct a number of traceability pilots and report back to congress on the results. Once complete, Congress wants FDA to establish the traceability rules for high-risk foods. IFT completed the pilots on behalf of FDA in 2012 and the report became public in 2013.

“We are still waiting for FDA’s report to Congress, after which we expect FDA to initiate the rulemaking process for additional traceability regulations,” Bhatt says. “Since this was due to happen back in 2013, it’s anyone’s guess if this will happen in 2016, but I am cautiously optimistic that with all the other rules already published, FDA will finally have the resources needed to tackle the traceability rule within section 204.”