Traceability is defined as the "ability to monitor the movement of a food in the production, processing and distribution phases". It is a risk management tool that can limit a food safety problem. Food business operators, including importers, may at least identify the undertaking from which the food or substance which may be incorporated into a food has been derived to ensure traceability after an investigation at all stages. It is noted that emphasis should be placed on the ability to monitor the physical flow of products and not just the commercial through tariffs. Its feasibility is focused on facilitating targeted withdrawals and risk assessment by audit authorities. However, the side benefits of its implementation are related to:
- Providing accurate information and transparent product promotion to consumers,
- Possibility of the authorities to use it as a tool in the detection of fraud phenomena
- Enhancing business reliability at B2C and B2B levels,
- Reducing the risk of litigation,
- Timely diagnosis of problems and minimization of damage.
Article 18 of Reg. 178/2002 makes traceability compulsory for all food businesses. Food business operators are required to have and implement a traceability system tailored to their own needs to monitor the physical flow of products. The same article, in conjunction with the EU Implementing Regulation No 931/2011, specifies the minimum types of information to be complied with by food business operators as follows:
- Exact description of the food
- Volume or quantity of food
- The name and address of the person responsible for the food from whom the food was sent
- Sender's name and address (owner), if different from the business manager from whom the food was sent
- Name and address of the food business operator to whom the food is dispatched
- Name and address of the sender (owner), if different from the business manager to whom the food was suspended
- Batch, consignment or shipping details, as appropriate
- Shipping date
An integrated traceability system falls under the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) category and should have the capabilities to manage identification / coding, product flow monitoring and related processes and quality controls, as well as collecting and managing relevant information. It is made up of special software, various interconnected fixed and / or mobile workstations and must meet the following general requirements / specifications:
- Covering the specific needs and processes of the business.
- Harmonization and collaboration with existing enterprise logging systems as well as information systems and automation systems (ERP, MES, MRP, SCADA, PLC, WMS, etc.).
- Ability to automatically interface with existing encoding systems (inkjet printers, thermal label printers, etc.).
- Absolute collaboration with quality assurance procedures and systems (HACCP, ISO, quality control procedures, etc.).
- Minimize human intervention to avoid mistakes.
- Expansion capability to meet all future needs.
- Discretely managing the information required or generated by the system.
- Ability to integrate new technologies for automatic data recovery and management (Wi-Fi, RFID, DNA, barcode, etc.).
- Ability to communicate with other IT systems with modern technologies (XML etc.).
Product recognition systems are the most common monitoring tool used and for the longest time. They include barcoding and stamping tools that use tracking numbers to link end products to specific data about their production history. The technology has gone even further (fTRACE - product data platform) as the consumer can get a history of the specific product, by means of a simple scan of the barcode on the product through its smartphone or tablet, as well as its components, allergens, provenance, product and packaging preservation specifications, etc. Eggfusion has designed new laser engraving technology that allows for the fixation and detection of date code and traceability upon separate shell eggs that can be used to search for additional data points about the origin and distribution of the egg. Unlike carton labels, laser engraving allows processors to track each individual egg with engraving for freshness and traceability codes embedded on technology platforms, ensuring the accuracy of information related to its origin and distribution Egg. Another company (DayMark Safety Systems) recently introduced new freshness labels tagging into fresh or frozen food packages to automatically monitor product life. It is activated by removing the back and then a purple signal moves along a white horizontal bar to the left of the label strip indicating the expired time as the end date of the feed approaches. When the bar is whole purple, the food has reached its expiration date. A good practice in the field of wine is the "GEOWINE" project which promotes local wine through the geographical traceability and certification of each bottle. It combines geoinformatics and viticulture so that consumers can get information on the geographic origin and production of the wine bottles they buy on smartphone screens and their tablets. Regarding the software, there are many examples of systems on the market that have managed to reduce the maximum detection time and the corresponding operating costs for the business (list of available systems here).
Undertakings for the design and installation of food traceability systems have problems entering their market, which are summarized as follows:
- Lack of sufficient funding. New innovative technologies are accompanied by higher implementation costs compared to traditional barcoding practice.
- Difficulty targeting customer groups. Due to many involved in the production, processing and distribution process (farmers, processors, traders, etc.), it is difficult for food-specific traders to offer a product that meets everybody's needs.
- Difficulty in changing culture. The production and sale of food has been part of our planet's economy since the ancient times and any attempt to change its character impinges on well-established perceptions and preconditions for production and handling costs. Food safety has not been established as a priority (against low price) in consumer behavior and it is a long and time consuming process. To summarize, food traceability requires both individual and team effort of all involved, direct (suppliers, transporters, processors, importers, retailers, controllers etc.) or indirect (legal, consultancy, etc.) but its benefit is enormous for food safety and, ultimately, to prevent harmful effects on human health.
- Reg. (EC) 178/2002, Για τον καθορισμό των γενικών αρχών και απαιτήσεων της νομοθεσίας για τα τρόφιμα, για την ίδρυση της Ευρωπαϊκής Αρχής για την Ασφάλεια των Τροφίμων και τον καθορισμό διαδικασιών σε θέματα ασφαλείας των τροφίμων, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EL/ALL/?uri=celex%3A32002R0178
- Reg (EU) 931/2011, Σχετικά με τις απαιτήσεις ανιχνευσιμότητας που ορίζει ο κανονισμός (ΕΚ) αριθ. 178/2002 του Ευρωπαϊκού Κοινοβουλίου και του Συμβουλίου για τρόφιμα ζωικής προέλευσης, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EL/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32011R0931
- FAO (2006), PRINCIPLES FOR TRACEABILITY/PRODUCT TRACING AS A TOOL WITHIN A FOOD INSPECTION AND CERTIFICATION SYSTEM, http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/sh-proxy/ru/?lnk=1&url=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FStandards%252FCAC%2BGL%2B60-2006%252FCXG_060e.pdf
- Geomatics Rural Information Society Initiative Plus, Good practices, http://el.grisiplus.eu/2/
- Theodorou Evangelos (2005), Συστήματα Ιχνηλασιμότητας Τροφίμων - Βασικές Αρχές, Στρατηγική Σημασία και Βήματα Υλοποίησης, https://www.theodorou.gr/el/knowledge/articles-and-white-papers/191-002-article.html
- Τεχνικό Επιμελητήριο Ελλάδας (2005), Ιχνηλασιμότητα και ασφάλεια των τροφίμων, http://library.tee.gr/digital/m2077/m2077_kiriakidis.pdf
- FoodSafety (2006), Innovations in Traceability Systems and Product ID Tools, http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/december-2005january-2006/innovations-in-traceability-systems-and-product-id-tools/
- AgFUNDER (2016), The Challenges 9 Traceability and Food Safety Technology Startups Face in Disrupting the Industry, https://agfundernews.com/the-challenges-9-traceability-and-food-safety-technology-startups-face.html
- GS1 Ireland (2017), fTRACE, https://www.gs1ie.org/Blog/Retail-CPG-Blog/Food-Traceability/Digital-food-traceability-in-the-cloud-the-fTRACE-barcode-solution.html