What is traceability and why is it important in food and drink?

Traceability is important for several reasons. The first is because it is a legal requirement under current UK and EU legislation, as well as other countries such as the US. The second is because if there is a problem with a component or the finished product, the producer will want to know where all the product with that issue is. The third is for identification, so that different batches can be identified for stock control and stock rotation.

  A simple traceability system will start at the delivery of raw materials and follow the raw material until it is combined with others to create the finished product. The finished product then is given a unique identifying code which follows it into the final packaging and to the final consumer. The code used for the final product could be a batch code or a durability code such as Use By or Best Before.

labelling is deadly

There is no regulation regarding the type of traceability that must be used, but it has to be effective and best practice is to run a test of the system at least annually. Often this is combined with a mock recall to test systems designed to recall products if necessary. 

Why practice?

I once ran a recall during an audit for business continuity. The products had been delivered into about 50 sites and each site had to identify the batches affected and quarantine until further information from the manufacturer about what action to take, be it disposal or collection.The auditor was amazed that it was handled without panic or drama. This was because we had such a wide product range, it was a weekly task. We were so practiced in the procedure that it just happened. 

What happens if you don’t have traceability?

If there is no traceability and you receive a notification from a supplier that there is an issue with one of your raw materials such as glass fragments or presence of a toxin. How will you know which product/s it is in?

If there is a problem with a foreign body or allergen that is not on the label on one batch of your products. How do you know which customers have received the batch or batches with the problem? Do you recall everything and risk a reputational disaster? Or do you ignore the problem and hope no one complains or dies? Any reputable producer would not do that!

How do you stock control your products without knowing which was produced first or second? When traceability fails it is usually when there is an emergency that it is uncovered. In an emergency, the people who are in charge will want to know all of the details. All of the details about all of the raw materials, and finished products. This can include quantities in storage. this can be on site off site and with customers. They are only concerned with the affected product. There is a problem if you can’t say which batch is affected because the traceability is not complete.

This is apart from the issue of breaking the law. 


Need help?

I can help create a traceability system with you. Or you can subscribe to my new document pack, which includes the paperwork to ensure that traceability exists in your production.

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