From The Editor | March 7, 2017

Food Traceability: Enabling Timely Emergency Responses And Protecting Consumers

Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis

Traceability gives food manufacturers an effective way to track products, and their attributes, as they move through the supply chain. But, even with the best traceability practices, recalls — and other food safety events — can occur. Here, Brian Perry, SVP Food Safety & Quality at TreeHouse Foods, answers my questions about ensuring consumer confidence with traceability endeavors and how traceability aids food manufacturers during crisis situations, such as a recall. Perry will be speaking at the upcoming 13th Annual North American Summit on Food Safety held April 26-27 in Toronto, ON.

Food Online: How can traceability endeavors influence consumer confidence? What can food manufacturers do to enhance consumer confidence through traceability?

Brian PerryPerry: When food safety situations occur and rock consumers’ trust in the food supply, how the situation is handled can either work to rebuild that trust or further erode it. Speedy recovery of product in the marketplace and sharing correct information with consumers is only accomplished through effectively tracing the product. Providing clear and concise communication concerning the impacted product once, without rolling multiple communications, will go a long way in building confidence.

Food Online: What obstacles are food manufacturers facing in improving food traceability and how can they overcome them?

Perry: The complexities of a global supply chain create challenges for the food industry to trace product. Additionally, there has been hesitancy for suppliers and manufacturers to share information in order to protect their intellectual property and proprietary information. A recent shift from this protectionary environment to a much more transparent supply chain is benefitting food safety across the globe.

Gaps in recordkeeping, and the level of sophistication of those records, can negatively impact product tracing. The best-in-class food and ingredient suppliers are moving to technology solutions, including systems such as: bar code, Quick Response (QR) code, and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), combined with robust Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to quickly track ingredients and finished product.

Food Online: Tell us a little bit about what GFSI standards expect regarding traceability and what food manufacturers can do to meet or exceed those standards.

Perry: In the past, we have seen auditors expect manufacturers to be able to trace one-forward and one-back within a specified time period. That standard is evolving to embrace a farm-to-fork approach with an emphasis on speed and accuracy. Food manufacturers must look to technology to help meet these needs. Cross-functional support across supply chain teams that are effectively trained in their various inputs into the trace process has to be proven.

Food Online: From both a North American and global standpoint, what do you think the future will hold regarding food traceability?

Perry: There are some really interesting things going on now with technology and its ability to provide insights across the supply chain. Today, for example, you scan a can of tuna and know what boat it was harvested on, including the flags! These technologies will continue to unlock transparency, but they must be mobile and flexible enough to deal with a tremendous amount of both geographic and cultural differences.

Food Online: What would an emergency response checklist look like? How can food companies create this checklist and ensure it’s used correctly in emergency situations?

Perry: A good checklist is simple, clear, and concise. It should provide members of a large cross-functional team with direction on what each individual is accountable for and how they interact with others on the team. Having this checklist vetted with all of those who are closest to the work is very helpful. Systems that can be used to share this information, along with the documents that are generated at each step, is also extremely helpful when team members are not in the same location and time is a precious commodity. Lastly, the way to make sure it is done correctly is like any other muscle, it must be built with exercise, and by practicing an organization can build that “muscle memory.”

For more information about Brian Perry and TreeHouse Foods’ traceability and food safety endeavors, be sure to attend the upcoming 13th Annual North American Summit on Food Safety held April 26-27 in Toronto, ON. At the show, Brian will be sharing insights on how to utilize traceability to quarantine problems and limit their impacts. For more information, click here.