Increasing complexity of the food chain demands improved management of supplier track and trace data

PMMI's Tom Egan.

Extremely complex supply systems have made track and trace even more complicated, while manufacturers struggle to maintain product integrity and brand reputation. How can your operation improve its management of track and trace data? Tom Egan, vice president of industry services at PMMI, tells Food Engineering about this new necessity.



FE: What is the supply web, and how is it different from the traditional concept of a supply chain?

Tom Egan: From farm to fork, the many different stages of preparation for food and beverage products have contributed to a complex supply chain—so much so that industry players are increasingly referring to it as a “supply web.” This “web” is woven from the increasing amount of materials, equipment, ingredients and services sourced from multiple suppliers in many locations that further transition into several product lines with multiple brands. However, measures are being taken by both regulatory agencies and manufacturers to ensure better oversight of  their ever-expanding networks of suppliers, and much of the progress made can be credited to advances in the utilization of track and trace technologies.


FE: Why should food companies care about the supply web’s effect on track and trace?

Egan: Recalls stemming from cross-contamination, unlisted or improperly labeled ingredients and inadequate packaging that jeopardizes product integrity, are costly, hazardous to the health of consumers and damaging to a brand’s reputation. Track and trace technologies that enable manufacturers to immediately identify a potential source of contamination are critical tools for them to possess.


FE: What are some common barriers to more effective track and trace? Are there solutions available?

Egan: One of the daunting challenges with mapping how food and beverage products are produced is that often, we’re not all speaking the same language. The databases of different supply chain partners are often incompatible and don't share data easily. This means additional measures need to be built in for translation, which extends, rather than streamlines, the conversation. To mitigate this issue, the FDA currently mandates that companies maintain a one-up-one-down link with suppliers and customers to provide a path for resolving potential issues quickly and efficiently. New legislation is exploring the need to mandate that manufacturers be equipped to readily provide data all the way up and down the supply chain. To do this, all parties must be speaking the same language.

Cloud-based solutions can link different databases along multiple radiating threads and streamline access to information the manufacturer needs. While the sensitive nature of production and technical data has many companies somewhat hesitant to make these details so readily accessible, advancing security measures help make the cloud more palatable to some manufacturers.

Additionally, 2-D barcodes are gaining attention from manufacturers for their ability to retain more information. While one-dimensional barcodes offer SKU data, 2-D barcodes enable manufacturers to embed more details to track product and ingredient origins. The availability of more information than on a single barcode could greatly advance a manufacturer’s track and trace capabilities. However, many retailers have not yet adopted 2-D barcode scanners, presenting a bottleneck at a critical point in the supply web.


FE: Does the Food Safety Modernization Act require anything specifically relating to track and trace?

Egan: Regardless of the track and trace technologies used by manufacturers – and the size of their supply web – new preventive control provisions set by the Food Safety Modernization Act will require all manufacturers of food and beverage products sold in the US to have a plan in place that identifies hazards and provides for control measures. This expanded food safety plan must also contain a written recall plan to assure the FDA that the manufacturer has the ability to trace the origins of a potential contaminant and remove the product from commerce within a timely manner.



Food and beverage manufacturers seeking the track and trace technologies and guidance to comply with new regulations on mandated food safety and recall plans can find both at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013 (September 23-25, Las Vegas Convention Center). The show will bring together more than 1,600 exhibitors showcasing the latest processing and packaging technologies. Additionally, attendees can address their food safety concerns with subject matter experts at the Food Safety Summit Resource Center, sponsored by BNP Media. The resource center will return to PACK EXPO to shed light on the impact of new FSMA legislation and help manufacturers determine solutions for compliance. For more information on PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013 or to register, visit