Tracking and tracing are the foundations all great food and beverage manufacturers rely on to create and strengthen trust with their distribution networks and consumers. But today’s consumer has set the bar increasingly high for companies as they think about the broader repercussions of their lifestyles and ask harder questions about where their food came from and how it was treated along the way.
For manufacturers, maintaining detailed ledgers that track and trace their materials, from farm to fork, can be a powerful way to track supplier performance, identify potential issues and surgically excise problems before they result in damaging product recalls.
Tracing vs. Tracking
Tracing and tracking are both important components of supply chain optimization. And while they may sound like interchangeable terms dealing with the path of a product, there is an important distinction to be made. Tracing involves the history of a product’s path through the food chain. It’s the act of looking back to see where the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, black beans, rice, carnitas, and the rest of the ingredients in your burrito came from. When people get sick and you need to trace the origins of every part of that burrito to avoid further contamination and sickness, you are tracing.
Tracking, on the other hand, is more about the destination of a product along the food chain. Where these hamburger patties are headed next, from pasture to processing plant to packaging to point of sale to dinner plate.
Whether looking forward or backward, each component is vital to traceability in the food and beverage industry.
Protecting Public Health
The world runs on a complex global supply chain. And while volatile lumber prices may adversely impact your ability to buy a house, all due respect, it’s nothing compared to the consequences of a food safety outbreak. In late 2019, the FDA used traceability to pinpoint an outbreak of E.coli 0157:H7 back to romaine lettuce harvested in Salinas, California. By January of 2020, the threat was quelled, but not before 167 people across 27 states were infected by that particular strain of bacteria. Eight-five were hospitalized, including 15 who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Mercifully, no deaths were reported.
Traceability plays a critical role in preparing for these outbreaks, responding quickly when something goes wrong, rebuilding trust once the emergency has subsided, and preventing future incidents through root cause analysis.
Sustainability and Business Impact
Traceability isn’t just for protecting public health, it plays a crucial role in appealing to new generations of consumers too. Now more than ever, people are interested in the provenance of the products they consume. Is your poultry and livestock being treated humanely? Are your food processing methods harmful to the environment? Are the workers who harvested these foods treated ethically?
Also consider that a quarter of U.S. adults are trying to manage a health or medical condition by making healthy food and beverage choices. Now can you prove that your products are indeed organic, as you claim? If you’re unable to provide transparency on matters of sustainability or provide proof of food product claims, consumers will take their business elsewhere.
Speaking of business, companies must still grapple with cost and bottom line. It’s no small matter that 52% of all recalls cost more than $10 million, and 23% cost over $30 million. In other words, the price of falling short in traceability is steep, whether it be failing to protect public health, incurring damage to your reputation, or putting your business in a costly situation.
So how do leading brands achieve mission critical traceability? They must seek out the tools of Industry 4.0 smart manufacturing. Manufacturers should consider creating a “material ledger” that utilizes fact-based, data-centric and contextualized views of material flows to achieve unprecedented material traceability. Such technology is available today and pumps out insight into ways to improve yield, quality, safety, compliance, transparency, and brand confidence while reducing waste and environmental impact.
Doug Lawson is CEO of ThinkIQ.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.