News Feature | July 2, 2014

10 Steps To Improve Traceability In The Food Supply Chain

Food Supply Chain Traceability Improvements

By Melissa Lind, contributing writer

Recent crises in the food supply chain with multiple recalls and consumer fear bring additional focus on a critical issue. This, compounded with recent regulatory action, adds just that much impetus on food industry needs to beef up traceability processes.

With mid-level and end-chain suppliers having to answer directly to consumers regarding food safety and the enactment FSMA looming, traceability is at the forefront of focus in the food supply chain. These are highlights of the many important measures to evaluate a food manufacturing or processing company’s performance in traceability and help reconfigure processes if needed.

Audit First
A comprehensive audit can identify deficiencies in the processing line. Ideally, a national accrediting organization will be used, allowing food manufacturers, processors, and packagers to show accreditation to customers and regulatory officials. But, a professional auditing company is a good place to start. Even a thorough internal audit can identify areas that are lacking in compliance.

Know The Regulations
Understanding the law and recent developments in regulatory compliance is a must. Food industry professionals should have a clear understanding of FSMA to ensure safety and avoid regulatory notice.

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Know The Sector
Some sectors of the food industry have additional compliance issues that need to be addressed. This is particularly important in the fresh food industry areas such as produce, dairy, meat, and seafood. In addition, requirements for all food, including fresh foods, may vary from country to country. Compliance specialists must know the product, the source, and any customer specific needs regarding labeling and other issues in order to ensure compliance.

Evaluate Equipment
Every piece of equipment needs to work together as a harmonious unit. A thorough evaluation of each step in the production line can tell you where your efforts should be focused. If deficiencies are seen, you may need to upgrade, and while this might mean a significant investment, it will pay off in the long run.

Measure Efficiency
Minimizing down-time and producing product in the most efficient means possible is a goal for every step in the food supply chain. Integrating appropriate traceability systems can be challenging when considering efficiency as you may be adding a step. Working in the necessary components can be done without slowing down the line but it may take some careful consideration.

Predicting future needs can be challenging. When considering an addition or an upgrade to any line, it may be beneficial to purchase equipment that has flexibility and enhancement capability. While no one can actually know the future, a greater investment may provide a greater return over the long run.

How Is FSMA Impacting Food Manufacturing?

Developing relationships with vendors and other industry professionals can help share the burden of learning new policies and technology. Industry groups and sector specialists working in collaboration with food vendors can ensure that needs for prevention and responsiveness are met. Close involvement with other industry experts can give insight as to what is coming next and may provide an opportunity to improve future standards.

Set Policy
Many organizations lack a functioning policy document. A policy and procedure manual should be a living document that is flexible, but also provides a bottom line and a clear organizational architecture for every process. Ensuring that current employees, new employees, and associated vendors are all on the same page is the only way to guarantee that requirements will be met.

The food industry is not a no-brainer. Each member of the food supply chain should have adequate training to perform the specific job they are tasked with. Knowledge of appropriate regulations, company policy, and the reasons behind those requirements enable employees to enhance performance and ensure that mistakes won’t be made from lack of training.

With every process there is a risk of a calamity. Preparing for those times or duress can reduce full-on chaos into a mere mishap. Robust plans and procedures should be in place before a crises occurs. With a functioning communication plan, problems can be minimized, if not completely avoided.

It starts with an evaluation of your current systems and ends with preparing ahead. With the food supply chain still in expansion mode and not likely to stop, getting ahead of the issues of traceability can improve the bottom line by ensuring safety and preserving customer loyalty.