Food Safety Traceability Challenges


There are many challenges to successful implementation of food traceability systems and compliance. The Global Food Traceability Center has identified the following recurrent issues that companies face in attempts to implement food traceability:

One of the most common issues pertains to rapidly shifting consumer preferences. Consumers demand transparency and quick access to reliable, relevant and accurate information whenever it is required. With the current, strong influence of and access to social media and the immense discomfort regarding product recalls, consumer trust and confidence is fragile.

Globally, there are many overlapping and conflicting demands from national regulators with a varying degree of food policies and regulations on handling, storage, inspections, and safety standards for allergens, trace elements, pesticides and many more. Nowadays, worldwide food sourcing and different time zones significantly affect an organization’s response times. With global sourcing, while visibility and verification of raw material sourcing and handling already of great concern, the food fraud and market substitution for economic gain is also an additional challenge for importers.

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. According to a Senior Director of Procurement Chain Management at a food distribution company, the challenges involved are usually related to receiving accurate data from suppliers and the high possibility of human errors at the receiving point where scanning is done. For them, the biggest challenge is resupplying their customers while ensuring that the food products  are placed properly on hold in the distribution network. i.e. mark and identify the product and make sure it does not get out.

Types of Traceability Requirements

Traceability requirements also vary by type of food industry and product. In exploring numerous food traceability implementation projects, there are a number of consistent principles that have been observed:


Identification starts with birth of livestock or the planting of produce/grain and follows through the growth process, use of pesticides, nutritional records, vet records and transportation to market.

Food Manufacturing/Processing

Identification starts at the source for each ingredient and follows through processing, packaging, distribution and transportation.

Retail and Food Service

Identification starts with receipts invoices to identify lot and batch information with regulations not requiring tracking “one-up” to final consumer.

Transportation and Distribution

Mixed and multiple points of contact can lead a rapid spread of foodborne and related disease and outbreaks. Generally, waybills are required to include the source party and target party identifications. Furthermore, most countries require specific locations for items like livestock. Similarly, if products are disaggregated for smaller shipments, then records are required to reflect lot/batch codes from the manufacturer or processor.

In many cases the challenge is simply a lack of records. Increasingly complex products require more thorough and robust traceability systems. For this reason, the general trend is to simply move towards electronic data management systems.

Weak technical systems have shown to prohibit rapid response times. Unfortunately, the efficacy and usability of some technical solutions in use by small and mid-size firms are questionable, or they just simply do not work as intended. Interoperability between different systems has traditionally been lacking, so regulators must spend time creating comparisons for each emergency. The good news is that technology is not an inhibitor: low-cost and effective solutions are available via numerous food and beverage ERP software solution providers. However, interoperability between different systems must be addressed to successfully implement and use food traceability systems in food supply safety maintenance.

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