Digitizing The Supply Chain
By Alec Italiano, contributing writer
In an effort to improve traceability, food retailers pressure suppliers to switch to digital records
Paper recordkeeping is becoming a thing of the past with the advent of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and mobile devices. These items are revolutionizing the way to track food from the farm to the store. While this technology has many advantages — time savings, automation, improved bookkeeping, to name a few — the most important benefit of digitally tracing food products is having the ability to quickly and accurately identify where in the supply chain a product became contaminated in the event of a recall.
Check out how mobility in the supply chain helped a manufacturer of fresh pasta
Currently, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) does not require farm-grown food to be traced, but many companies are becoming compliant in the interest of consumer safety and accountability within the supply chain. Intermec, a mobile computer and RFID manufacturer, brought this to the industry’s attention saying how many major food producers and growers are still behind the times. “The big players right now are keeping records, but a lot of them are still doing it in a paper fashion versus an electronic fashion,” says Bruce Stubbs, director of industry marketing at Intermec.
The cocoa industry, for example, exemplifies how technology is improving traceability in the supply chain. Cocoa farmers are able to scan cocoa trees and identify exactly which farm beans originated. Once the beans are ready to be shipped from the farm, they are scanned again, allowing retailers to know exactly which farm employee and delivery driver were handling the product. The same would be done when the beans enter a warehouse, another truck, and every checkpoint along the way until it reaches the end user.
All collected data is sent to mobile devices which store and process the information for users. Records are now available almost instantly on a server, making the long, drawn out search through paper records obsolete. Paper records were especially problematic during the UK horse meat scandal. It took investigators weeks to trace exactly which ranches and slaughterhouses the meat was coming from. Had the supply chain been subject to digital record keeping, the horsemeat scandal’s investigation time would have been substantially less. Now it can be done in a matter of minutes.
Digital recordkeeping is also advantageous in its ease of training and everyday use. Multilingual workers don’t require additional training to learn the digital systems. All a worker is required to do is point and shoot a scanner at a bar code to ensure proper records are kept. Some mobile devices are hands-free, using voice recognition technology in many languages, allowing safer work environments, more efficient production, and fewer worries about lost equipment.
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