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Traceability systems needed to increase trust in food safety

A new study from Canada’s Conference Board says one step forward and one step backward in the supply chain is a simple, robust and cost-effective method of traceability.

November 13, 2012
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Conference Board Traceability
Source: The Conference Board of Canada

The number of recalls in Canada, the US and the rest of the world point to the need for a robust system of traceability to protect the safety and quality of the food supply. In a new publication for its Centre for Food in Canada, The Conference Board of Canada recommends that all players in the food supply chain be able to trace where they got a product or ingredient, and where they sent or sold that product or a product containing that ingredient. In other words, each producer or processor in the food supply chain needs to be able to accurately trace its products or ingredients one step forward and one step backward in the supply chain, according to the publication, Forging Stronger Links: Traceability and the Canadian Food Supply Chain.

“Food traceability is a vital part of the food risk management system: it underpins Canadians’ trust in food safety, quality and healthiness,” says Alison Howard, principal research associate. “The ability to trace a product’s journey from point of sale back to its origin is a vital part of today’s risk management system.”

Many Canadian food processors already comply with the principle of one-step-forward and one-step-backward because of export requirements, private standards and/or their own internal food safety practices. To be fully effective, however, traceability systems must all link together so the entire food supply chain is covered. The one-step forwards and backwards approach to traceability can be universally implemented, but at the same time, it lessens the financial burden borne by processors.

While it might be ideal for processors and producers to trace a product or ingredient throughout the entire supply chain, such a process is extremely complex and prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, evaluations of this kind of system found little or no benefit to food safety, so it may not actually be a great improvement over the one-step-forward and the one-step-backward approach.

The report highlights actions governments, industry and others can take to strengthen the role of traceability in the supply chain:

  • Mandate minimum traceability requirements so suppliers can trace their products and ingredients one step forward and one step backward.
  • Make traceability systems universal and comprehensive.
  • Develop traceability systems to be compatible, so information about food products can be communicated quickly and easily throughout the supply chain and with government authorities in the event of a safety problem.
  • Make premises identification mandatory for poultry and livestock producers.
  • Require detailed information to handle emergencies quickly.
  • Help fund firm’s startup costs and encourage flexible, cost-effective systems.
  • Promote the benefits of participation in traceability systems to all players in the food supply chain.
  • Use continuous evaluation to improve system performance.

For more information on the publication or to download it, visit The Conference Board of Canada’s website. Visit the Centre for Food in Canada.

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