Traceability is the ability to trace any food product or substance used for consumption through all stages of its production, processing, and distribution. It is all about knowing the data produced one step behind or one step ahead at any point in the supply chain. Nowadays traceability in the food processing business has extended up to knowing the origin of raw materials, additives, ingredients etc., used in it.
IMPORTANCE OF TRACEABILITY
In the present world, it is important to adopt traceability in the food sector to ensure the safety of food products. As you know we hear a lot of scandals going on in food industries such as bans of different brands for adulteration, different outbreaks of diseases or flu from the poultry industry, severe health issues caused by consumption of junk foods etc., and many more. Traceability can help both the manufacturers and consumers to avoid these problems by creating transparency between them.
Most of the manufacturing industries present today have grown to a global level network to extend their market, and thereby increasing their income. These global level industries involve suppliers from different countries for a particular product which makes the supply chain complex. It is even a legal requirement to have traceability enabled supply chains in some countries to do international exports and imports. Traceability helps you to maintain the visibility in this type of complex supply chain, so whenever there is an issue at any point of production, it is easy to trace back and find out the origin of the issue to resolve it.
Not only it helps in maintaining the visibility of the supply chain, but it can also help you in identifying potential threats that may happen in future from a product, thereby helping you to prevent problematic products from reaching the customers. While traceability provides its benefits for manufacturers, it also helps the consumers to know more about the product. Many companies enable access to traceability for their customers to keep the transparency of their product. For this purpose, many advanced technologies like Blockchain are used for traceability.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TRACEABILITY
The most common characteristics of traceability are already discussed above such as, identification, information and tracing different links in complex supply-chain. However, traceability systems have its different when it comes to the range of tracing, i.e. how far and how precise the traceability system can track the information. It differs in the amount of data recorded and accordingly you have to choose the suitable traceability technology.
TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR TRACEABILITY
a. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): It uses the electromagnetic fields to transmit data from an RFID tag to a reader. RFID can provide real-time data for tracking fixed or mobile products.
This technology provides an efficient way for automatic data capturing. Hundreds of RFID tags can be read in seconds with no need for line-of-sight using radio waves. Information like location, serial number, manufacturer details, photo etc., can be stored in the RFID tag which contains a memory chip. The main drawbacks of RFID are its expense, infrastructure requirements, and setup time.
b. Barcodes: Barcodes that you see on items have more uses other than just inventory control and pricing. It can store information like the country of origin, product details, and company details. These pieces of information are written as codes under the barcode.
For example, a company’s name can be written as a code (numbers) prefix to other numbers, each number has its significance. Barcodes can be scanned using a barcode scanner and all this information can be decoded. Barcodes are cheaper compared to other technologies and are widely used in many industries other than food such as retail, health care, transport and logistics.
c. QR codes (Quick Response code): QR codes are also used as a barcode, i.e. it can be scanned to access the information it contains in it.
The main difference between a barcode and a QR code is that QR codes can store much more data and can perform several actions by programming them. They are used in many fields other than traceability such as augmented reality systems, payment/transaction systems, to do online bookings for transport or cinemas etc., QR code contains information both vertically and horizontally which can be read through a smartphone camera or other camera-enabled devices.
Blockchain technology: It is one of the most advanced technologies used for traceability. This technology gives the customers access to full data regarding the production cycle of the purchased product in real-time.
Blockchain technology is more secure (tamper-proof) for handling and storing the data, since a copy of these data is uploaded to all the servers in the blockchain network and anyone can access it. This data can be accessed by scanning a QR code.
BLOCKCHAIN FOR AGRICULTURE
The agriculture industry also uses blockchain to improve their potential in transport, logistics and transaction costs etc, by improving the inventory tracking, shipping processes and reduces transaction costs by avoiding the third party involvements from banks. Also using blockchain combined with IoT, farmers can produce proof of their product (harvest) quality which can help them in selling their produce in markets or to manufacturers.
BLOCKCHAIN FOR BRAND TRANSPARENCY
For brand transparency, blockchain plays a critical role in it. Nowadays people just don’t give much attention to advertisements about a brand, they rather rely on information the brand can offer to them. Consumers want to know how the food product they are about to buy is made, what all methods are used for it and how safe it is. These questions cannot be answered through advertisements, but it’s possible through blockchain traceability because of its in-depth tracking in each step of processing of the food product, from farm to table, each stage of raw material to product is tracked and the data is uploaded to the blockchain. This is the only way to answer the concerns of each consumer regarding the quality and safety of the food and about their trust in that particular brand.
WHY WE NEED TRACEABILITY?
In a press release held on 25th November 2019 in New Delhi, the FSSAI revealed that 10 states in India performed poorly for meeting the safety standards in the food industry. The reason for this is because the states were not able to put in place full-time officers for food safety and these states don’t have proper laboratories despite the food safety law present over a decade ago. You’ll be wondering what this has to do with the traceability. But the answer is we do not have enough resources to identify which food is safe to consume and which is not. It is a fact that more than 80% of food products available in the market are adulterated and you might have already used it. This is where the traceability offers its benefits for you, i.e. for the manufacturers and consumers. As we have already discussed its importance, let’s see more of the complications that could affect us in the current scenario, i.e. in absence of traceability.
By consuming the adulterated food items available in the market, you can get various chronic diseases like cancer, brain damage, liver disorder, heart issues, diarrhoea and many more in a long period of time. Why do you need to take this risk if an alternate option to choose the right product through the right information is available to you?
IMPACTS OF PRODUCT RECALL
It is one of the worst financial situations a company could face since they can only resolve it after recalling its products that are already present in the market. A product recall can change a company’s reputation among their customers and it’ll affect their performance in the market even if the issue is solved, many companies even go broke and shut down after it. If you are a manufacturer, through the traceability system, through its documentation and technology, you can prevent this situation and even if it happens, you can look forward to a faster recovery.
CASE STUDY CONDUCTED ON TRACEABILITY
This case study is an example to explain the use of implementing the traceability in the supply chain. You can refer to the article published by ‘Ushadevi Narsimhalu et al. / Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences 189 ( 2015 ) 17–32’.
The study was conducted on the diary product’s supply chain in Australia to know about the influence of traceability factors on the supply chain. Here the product’s supply chain consists of a Supplier, Distributor (Warehouse), and Retailers.
Supply chain explained:
The supplier distributes the dairy products in a truck to the warehouse where information like the temperature at which the product is kept (cold storage temperature), which is an important factor in determining the quality of the product, the dimensions of the cartons used for carrying the products (Height, weight, width), the batch number of the product and finally the use-by date of the product are checked by the distributor. If any of this information didn’t meet the required standard such as if the temperature is above the set standards implies that product may be contaminated or if the dimensions of the carton are different (dents/cracks) implies that it is damaged, then the entire batch is returned to the supplier. This verification is done semi-automatically, i.e. humans check the product using scanners and physical checking and store this information in the computer. After the verification, if the product is fit then the distributor stores it in their warehouse. The warehouse is well built with sufficient technical, high financial and human resources such that the continuous monitoring of the product is done, the retailer orders are all checked timely. The batch is then distributed to different retailers according to their order, but the distributor doesn’t share the batch number to the retailer. Since dairy products are very much time-dependent, chances of product recalls are very high. Here the retailer only checks the order quantity and places the product in his store.
Information shared in this supply chain:
Here the shortage of information sharing is very visible. The supplier shares the information about the batch production number through barcodes, the temperature while arriving at the warehouse, used-by date of the product, height and weight of the cartons used to pack the product. This information is not enough to ensure the product quality, what if the temperature of the refrigerator varied before arriving at the warehouse? It’ll affect the quality of the product.
The warehouse has handled information more efficiently, but internally only. They didn’t generate a separate batch number or didn’t share the batch production to retailers. This creates a lot of trouble when a product recall happens. They had all facilities to monitor the product and supply chain flow smoothly internally. They can successfully trace back any batch to the supplier from their warehouse, but it is difficult to trace back for a retailer.
The retailer on the other hand didn’t collect all the information. Some retailers don’t bother to use Barcodes in their store.
How traceability can help in this scenario:
By implementing traceability, all these three groups can benefit. Consider a situation like a product recall. The distributor has to contact the retailer, but without the batch numbers assigned to distributed products, the distributor has to trace the retailer through sales, purchase date, etc. Well once the batch sent to the retailer is identified, it is easy to contact the supplier who supplied it. For the supplier, he doesn’t have the resource for continuous monitoring of his product. This causes more time for the supplier to identify what was the cause of this problem, and from where it happened.
All this missing information could be attained through traceability, without many human resources. For implementing traceability, the requirements are the willingness to share the information across the supply chain partners. This information doesn’t have to be your strategic plans, but everything about the product from each group. Next thing needed is the financial support for integrating the supply chain. Try to analyze the benefits each group can get from it and invest for a common traceability system for an effective flow of the supply chain.
In the conclusion of the study, it was found that the recall would take approximately 4 hours to find all the details but with traceability enabled systems, it took only 20 minutes.
Traceability can help you in almost all sectors whether its food, agriculture, health, or other manufacturing industries to be more transparent and trustworthy to their customers. It can help in the growth of a country’s economy by providing legal support for international exports and can also ensure the quality and safety of food in the market.